Congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and periventricular leukomalacia (PVL) both lead to static cerebral white matter lesions. In contrast to PVL, the neuropathologicAL substrate of these lesions in congenital CMV is not clear. By comparing changes in quantitative magnetic resonance (MR) parameters and MR spectroscopy metabolite concentrations we wanted to determine whether the nature of the white matter pathology in congenital CMV infection could be similar to the known pathology of PVL. Diffusion parameters, apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) and fractional anisotropy (FA), magnetization transfer ratio (MTR) and MR spectroscopy concentrations were studied in white matter lesions in five patients with a congenital CMV infection and six patients with PVL. In both groups ADC values were increased, FA and MTR values were reduced, concentrations of total N-acetylaspartate and choline-containing compounds were reduced; and myo-inositol concentrations were slightly increased. No differences were found between the two groups, suggesting that the pathology of the white matter lesions in congenital CMV infections is similar to that of PVL and also characterized by axonal losses, lack of myelin deposition due to oligodendrocytic losses, and astrogliosis. Congenital CMV infection and PVL affect the cerebral white matter in the same developmental period when immature oligodendrocytes are particularly vulnerable. © Georg Thieme Verlag KG Stuttgart.