There is a large amount of tissue stored in brain collections and brain banks, but little is known about whether formalin-fixed tissues and paraffin blocks stored for years in brain banks are suitable for the retrospective genetic studies. The study was carried out in order to: (i) compare DNA preservation in frozen, formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded tissues stored for different periods; (ii) study point mutations and triplet expansions in frozen, formalin-fixed and paraffin-embedded material stored for variable periods, and using different fixative solutions; (iii) compare different methods to optimize DNA extraction and DNA amplification from suboptimally preserved brain tissue. DNA preservation is suitable for genetic studies in samples stored at -80 degrees C for several years. Formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue was inferior to frozen tissue, but did yield adequate results in many cases depending on the type of fixative solution and time of fixation before embedding. Prolonged fixation in formalin rarely yielded useful DNA. Similar results were obtained in samples from prion diseases. The best results were obtained by using the Qiagen kits (QIAmp DNA Micro) in frozen material, paraffin blocks and formalin-fixed tissue. Genomiphi and TaKaRa Ex Taq methods were also assayed in paraffin blocks and in formalin-fixed samples with limited success.