There is evidence for lymphatic drainage of interstitial fluid from the brain along perivascular spaces in a number of mammalian species. Ultrastructural studies suggest that there are similar drainage pathways in the human cerebral cortex. Perivascular spaces in the basal ganglia, however, differ from those in the cortex in that they dilate to form lacunes and rarely accumulate beta-amyloid (amyloid angiopathy) in Alzheimer's disease; in the cortex, lacunes are rare but amyloid angiopathy is common. The aim of the present study is to compare the structure of perivascular spaces in the basal ganglia and at the anterior perforated substance with perivascular spaces in the cerebral cortex. Eight postmortem brains from patients aged 23-80 years (mean 68 y) were examined by light microscopy, by scanning and transmission electron microscopy and by direct visualisation of etched paraffin blocks. The results show that arteries in the basal ganglia are surrounded by 2 distinct coats of leptomeninges separated by a perivascular space which is continuous with the perivascular space around arteries in the subarachnoid space. The inner layer of leptomeninges closely invests the adventitia of the vessel wall and the outer layer is continuous with the pia mater on the surface of the brain at the anterior perforated substance. Veins in the basal ganglia have no outer layer of leptomeninges and thus the perivascular space is continuous with the subpial space. The anatomy of the periarterial spaces in the basal ganglia differs significantly from that in the cerebral cortex where there is only a single periarterial layer of leptomeninges. Differences in structure of perivascular spaces around arteries may reflect relative efficiencies in the drainage of interstitial fluid from different sites in the brain. Furthermore, the structure of the perivascular spaces may contribute to the relatively high frequency of lacunes in the basal ganglia, and the low frequency of amyloid angiopathy at this site in Alzheimer's disease.