The classical demyelinating diseases include the ‘autoimmune’ inflammatory demyelinating diseases, the inflammatory demyelinating diseases of infectious aetiology, and the demyelinating or dysmyelinating diseases of genetic/hereditary background. In addition, primary demyelination is present in other conditions, such as brain ischaemia and intoxication. Irrespective of the primary aetiology, selective demyelination can be mediated through various pathogenetic pathways: the immune-mediated inflammatory pathway; the metabolic pathway; and the ischaemic/excitotoxic pathway. These pathways are only partly segregated with distinct aetiologies of demyelinating diseases, but they also reflect the way in which the patient copes with the disease-inciting event in relation to their particular genetic background. For future therapeutic strategies it will be important to interfere with the specific pathogenetic pathways of demyelination, which may be common to various demyelinating diseases, but may differ in subgroups of patients who suffer from a particular clinical demyelinating disease entity.