To find imaging signs of active degenerative processes in vanishing white matter disease (VWM), six VWM patients and six matched controls underwent MR examinations. The data were analyzed with modified Scheltens scales for morphological findings and determined quantitatively for apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC). Single-voxel MR spectra were acquired at the parietal white matter and analyzed with LCModel. Typical VWM brain lesions were found in all patients accompanied by proton diffusion abnormalities: Increased ADC appeared in brain regions with severe myelin destruction in all patients, and reduced ADC in two of six younger patients in remaining white matter adjacent to the lesions or at the borders around the lesions, who had a short history of the disease (≤ 1 year). The MR spectroscopy revealed reductions of NAA, Cho, and Cr, which correlate to the grade of white matter abnormalities. An increase of myo-inositol as marker of reactive gliosis was missing. Thus, restricted proton diffusion was evident in younger VWM patients with short history of disease, which in combination with lack of reactive gliosis may reflect early white matter degeneration in VWM. The multimodal MR methods are useful for characterizing such tissue degeneration in brain in vivo.