The relationship between the apolipoprotein E (APOE) exon 4 polymorphism and white matter changes (WMC) in elderly subjects or patients with Alzheimer's disease is controversial. To investigate this polymorphism in relation to WMC in patients with lacunar infarcts, we prospectively observed 67 patients with acute lacunar infarct and 134 age- and sex-matched controls. Genotypes were determined using a nested polymerase chain reaction. WMC were measured quantitatively and were divided into two groups, severe and mild, with the mean volume of WMC as the cut point. Twenty-two patients (33%) had severe WMC. There was a significant difference in the distribution of APOE ɛ2, ɛ3, and ɛ4 alleles between severe and mild WMC groups (P = 0.002). The frequency of ɛ4 alleles was higher in patients with severe WMC than in those with mild WMC (25% vs. 7%, P = 0.003). These results suggest that APOE ɛ4 may exacerbate WMC in patients with lacunar infarcts. Further studies are required to confirm this finding.