Some CSF protein abnormalities have been proposed as a possible marker for vascular dementia. We studied the CSF protein levels and albumin ratio in 21 patients (mean age 64.04 +/- 7.5) with progressive bilateral motor impairment, and a CT picture of leucoaraiosis. Seven of these patients also presented with dementia. Twenty-seven Alzheimer's disease patients (mean age 59.59 +/- 5.30) without leucoaraiosis were taken as controls. We also evaluated the correlations of the albumin ratio values with the diagnosis of dementia, the severity of cognitive impairment, the degree of cerebral atrophy and presence of infarcts on CT, and the abnormalities in CSF circulation, found on isotopic cisternography, in the leucoaraiosis group. After controlling for age and sex, the patients with leucoaraiosis showed greater CSF albumin levels (0.27 g/l +/- 0.11 vs. 0.21 g/l +/- 0.06; covariance analysis P = 0.066), CSF IgG values (4.68 mg/100 ml +/- 1.45 vs. 2.85 mg/100 ml +/- 1.03; covariance analysis P < 0.001), and a higher albumin ratio (0.0078 +/- 0.0027 vs. 0.0058 +/- 0.0019; covariance analysis P = 0.013) than those with Alzheimer's disease. The variations of these parameters were not apparently related to the presence of dementia in the leucoaraiosis group. A significantly higher albumin ratio was observed in patients with a slowed CSF circulation compared to those with normal CSF circulation (0.0086 +/- 0.0028 vs. 0.0059 +/- 0.0019; covariance analysis P = 0.05). We conclude that, independently from the presence of dementia, patients with leucoaraiosis have CSF abnormalities consistent with functional blood-brain barrier alterations.