A diagnosis of demyelination carries important therapeutic and prognostic implications. In most cases the diagnosis is made clinically, and involvement of the histopathologist is largely confined to postmortem confirmation and clinicopathological correlation. However, every now and then, accurate diagnosis of the presence or cause of demyelination before death hinges on the histopathological assessment. Recognition of demyelination depends on an awareness of this as a diagnostic possibility, and on the use of appropriate tinctorial and immunohistochemical stains to identify myelin, axons and inflammatory cells. In biopsy specimens, the critical distinction is usually from ischaemic or neoplastic disease, and the types of demyelinating disease most likely to be encountered are multiple sclerosis, acute-disseminated encephalomyelitis, progressive multifocal leucoencephalopathy and extrapontine myelinolysis. Interpretation of the pathology has to be made in the context of the clinical, radiological and biochemical findings. Freezing of a small amount of fresh tissue allows for later virological studies, and electron microscopy is occasionally helpful for demonstration of viral particles.