The combined application of recently developed techniques for genetic and biochemical analysis, neuroimaging and the ability to create animal models has led to remarkable advances in the field of leukodystrophy research. The present review focuses on recent developments in X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy, Alexanders disease, Canavans disease, metachromatic leukodystrophy, globoid cell leukodystrophy (Krabbes disease) and Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, and briefly discusses new data on six other rare inherited leukodystrophies. Of the leukodystrophies, 12 can now be diagnosed precisely using noninvasive techniques, and the molecular defect has been identified in nine of these. Disease incidence can be reduced through genetic counselling. Presymptomatic diagnosis provides an opportunity for therapeutic intervention. Study of animal models facilitates elucidation of pathogenic mechanisms and identifies pathways that could be targeted by future therapies.