White matter lesions in an unselected cohort of the elderly: astrocytic, microglial and oligodendrocyte precursor cell responsesHyperintense lesions are frequently identified in T2-weighted magnetic resonance images (MRI) in the ageing brain. The pathological correlate and pathogenesis of white matter lesions (WML) remain unclear, and it is uncertain whether pathology and pathogenesis differ in periventricular lesions (PVL) compared with deep subcortical lesions (DSCL). Therefore we characterized astrocytic, microglial and oligodendrocyte responses in PVL and DSCL and compared them with control white matter using immunohistochemistry. Both PVL and DSCL were associated with severe myelin loss and increased microglia (P = 0.069 and P < 0.001), compared with nonlesional aged brain. Clasmatodendritic astroglia, immunoreactive for the serum protein fibrinogen, were present in 67% of PVL examined and 42% of DSCL. Compared with control and DSCL cases, more MAP-2 +13 positive remyelinating oligodendrocytes (P = 0.003 and P = 0.035) and platelet-derived growth factor alpha receptor positive reactive astrocytes (P < 0.001) were present in the perilesional white matter of PVL. In addition to a role for hypoperfusion, our data suggest that dysfunction of the blood-brain barrier may also contribute to the pathogenesis of a proportion of cerebral WML associated with ageing, and that attempts at remyelination are only associated with PVL and not DSCL.