This paper reviews the current applications of diffusion-weighted and diffusion tensor MRI in diseases of the brain white matter. The contribution that diffusion-weighted imaging has made to our understanding of white matter diseases is critically appraised. The quantitative nature of diffusion MRI is one of its major attractions; however, this is offset by the more advanced hardware required to collect diffusion-weighted images reliably, and the more complex processing to produce quantitative parametric diffusion images. With the now common availability of scanners equipped to perform echo-planar imaging, the acquisition of diffusion tensor images is sure to become more widespread and routine. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.