The purpose of the study was to explore the possibilities of using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and tractography (DTT) for the differential diagnosis and monitoring of disease progression in idiopathic Parkinson's disease (IPD), compared with the atypical parkinsonian disorders multiple system atrophy (MSA) and progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP). A 3.0-T MR scanner was used. DTI was acquired using a single-shot EPI sequence with diffusion encoding in 32 directions and a voxel size of 2 x 2 x 2 mm(3). DTI data were analysed and DTT was performed using the PRIDE fibre tracking tool supplied by the manufacturer. The fractional anisotropy ( FA) and apparent diffusion coefficient ( ADC) within each tract were determined. DTI and DTT images in patients with moderate to advanced MSA demonstrated degeneration of the middle cerebellar peduncles and pontine crossing tracts, with decreased FA and increased ADC. This accounted for most of the pontine and cerebellar atrophy characteristic of this disease. In contrast, patients with PSP showed a selective degeneration of the superior cerebellar peduncle. Three-dimensional images of whole-brain white matter tracts demonstrated a reduction of cortical projection fibres in all patients with PSP. Visualization of the selective degeneration of individual fibre tracts, using DTI and DTT, adds qualitative data facilitating the differential diagnosis of parkinsonian disorders. Repeated measurements of FA and ADC values in a whole fibre tract might be used for monitoring disease progression and studying the effect of treatment in neuroprotective trials. The results are preliminary considering the small number of subjects in the study.