A 3-year follow-up of 273 participants (mean age 60 years) of the Austrian Stroke Prevention Study provides first information on the rate, clinical predictors and cognitive consequences of MRI white matter lesions (WML) in elderly individuals without neuropsychiatric disease. Lesion progression was found in 17.9% of individuals over a time period of 3 years. Diastolic blood pressure and early confluent or confluent white matter hyperintensities at baseline were the only significant predictors of white matter hyperintensity progression. Genetic association studies in the setting of the Austrian Stroke Prevention Study provide first evidence for genetic susceptibility factors for progression of WML. We observed associations with the paraoxonase Leu→Met 54 polymorphism and with the M235T polymorphism of the angiotensinogen gene. Lesion progression had no influence on the course of neuropsychologic test performance over the observational period, but the statistical power of this analysis was low.