Progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and corticobasal degeneration (CBD) are sporadic neurodegenerative disorders of late adult life. Focal asymmetric cortical atrophy with ballooned neurons, nigral degeneration, and tau-positive neuronal and glial lesions in both the gray and white matter, especially astrocytic plaques in the affected cerebral cortex, are characteristic features of CBD. While cortical involvement may occur in PSP, ballooned neurons are sparse and limited to the limbic system, and tufted astrocytes are abundant in the precentral gyrus and striatum. The present findings suggest that PSP and CBD are distinct pathological entities. However, there exist ‘atypical’ cases of PSP and CBD. Severe cortical involvement or asymmetric cortical atrophy can be seen in PSP. Ballooned neurons are sparse or difficult to detect in some cases of CBD, in spite of typical cortical tau pathology. Cortical symptoms are absent or only mild in ‘minimal change’ CBD. Moreover, several neurodegenerative disorders can underlie CBD. This pathological heterogeneity leads to difficulty in the clinical and pathological diagnosis of both disorders.