Over the past few decades, MRI-based visualization of demyelinated CNS lesions has become pivotal to the diagnosis and monitoring of multiple sclerosis (MS). In this Review, we outline current efforts to correlate imaging findings with the pathology of lesion development in MS, and the pitfalls that are being encountered in this research. Multimodal imaging at high and ultra-high magnetic field strengths is yielding biologically relevant insights into the pathophysiology of blood-brain barrier dynamics and both active and chronic inflammation, as well as mechanisms of lesion healing and remyelination. Here, we parallel the results in humans with advances in imaging of a primate model of MS - experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) in the common marmoset - in which demyelinated lesions resemble their human counterparts far more closely than do EAE lesions in the rodent. This approach holds promise for the identification of innovative biological markers, and for next-generation clinical trials that will focus more on tissue protection and repair.