The present study investigates the vasoreactivity of the brain in patients with large infarcts and dementia (multi-infarct dementia; MID) and in patients with microangiopathy, lacunes, white matter changes and dementia (lacunar dementia; LD) using positron emission tomography (PET) and 13NH3 as regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) tracer. In the control group, an increase in rCBF ranging from 32 to 43% was found in all brain regions after intravenous acetazolamide administration. In both the MID group and the group with multiple infarcts without dementia, moderate loss of vasoreactivity was observed in the frontal, temporal and parietal cortex compared to the control values. Vasoreactivity was severely impaired in all cerebral regions of the LD group and restricted to the thalamus in the group with lacunes and white matter changes without dementia (lacunar stroke; LS). This suggests that global loss of vasoreactivity is not a determining factor in the occurrence of MID, but might be important in LD. The present study shows that loss of the vascular reserve leading to exhausted metabolic reserve of the whole brain is one of the possible mechanisms for the occurrence of vascular dementia.