Diffusion weighted imaging (DWI) and the trace of diffusion tensor [Trace (D)], a marker of water molecule diffusivity, provide information on structural integrity of nervous tissues. To investigate structural lesions within the brain's neuronal architecture in early stages of Parkinson's disease, 12 patients with disease duration of 3.5 +/- 1.5 years were studied with DWI. Data were compared with 12 age-matched healthy control subjects. To objectively localize focal changes of structural neuronal integrity without having to make an a priori hypothesis as to its location statistical parametric mapping (SPM) was applied to our DWI study. SPM localized significant increases of diffusivity in the region of both olfactory tracts in patients (P < 0.001). Trace (D) cut-off values for the voxel cluster of the olfactory tracts have been calculated from the subjects entered into SPM and applied to a total of 17 different individuals (9 patients with Parkinson's disease, disease duration 3.1 +/- 1.3 years and 8 age-matched healthy subjects). Out of 17 subjects, 16 subjects, i.e. 94%, were correctly discriminated with a sensitivity of 100% and a specificity of 88%. All patients with Parkinson's disease were correctly classified and only one normal subject was classified as having the disease, underlining the high potential of this method to separate patients with the illness from healthy subjects. Increased diffusivity in the olfactory tract is in line with the well-established clinical finding of hyposmia in Parkinson's disease. Whether DWI can be used as a marker to identify individuals at risk to develop this disease remains to be shown.