We studied 91 patients with proximal intracranial territory posterior circulation ischemia from the New England Medical Center Posterior Circulation Registry to learn their distribution, underlying cardiovascular causes and long-term outcome. All patients had imaging and vascular studies. Six patients had proximal territory TIAs. Among 85 stroke patients, 52% had infarcts limited to the proximal territory, while 48% also had infarcts in other intracranial posterior circulation territories. Eighty-five percent of proximal territory infarcts were posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA) territory cerebellar infarcts and 30% were lateral medullary infarcts. One patient had a hemi-medullary syndrome. Six patients had PICA territory cerebellar and lateral medullary infarcts. The most common vascular lesion in lateral medullary infarct patients was ipsilateral intracranial vertebral artery (ICVA) disease (38% isolated ICVA disease) and in PICA territory cerebellar infarcts, extra-cranial vertebral artery (ECVA) disease (29% isolated ECVA disease). Half of all lateral medullary infarcts were due to a hemodynamic mechanism, most often in situ thrombosis of an ICVA occlusive lesion. Half of all PICA territory cerebellar infarcts were due to intra-arterial embolism and one-fifth to cardiac origin embolism. Embolism was a more frequent cause of proximal territory posterior circulation infarcts than intrinsic ICVA disease. The etiological profiles of lateral medullary and PICA cerebellar infarcts were different. Seventeen percent of all patients died during follow-up (41 months) but mortality related to the acute stroke or new strokes was only 6 percent. The outcome was favorable in the surviving patients; 89% had no or only slight disability.