White matter injury may be secondary to a range of neurodegenerative disorders, such as the common dementing disorders of the elderly, or may be a consequence of specific white matter disorders, such as multiple sclerosis and the rare leukodystrophies. This article will focus on two relatively common primary groups of disorders of the white matter, traumatic white matter injury and toxic leukoencephalopathies. Traumatic axonal injury may be focal or diffuse, and is associated with a clinical spectrum ranging from concussion through to coma and death. The molecular mechanisms underlying axonal degeneration secondary to traumatic axonal degeneration are being elucidated and may give an insight into potential therapeutic targets. Toxic leukoencephalopathy may be secondary to exposure to a wide range of compounds, including chemotherapeutic drugs. These toxins may produce white matter injury through a range of mechanisms, and the potential toxic effects of compounds need to be considered when assessing a patient with a nonspecific leukoencephalopathy.