Brain imaging course – 4 – Reviewing a normal case

This video is the fourth in a series from brain imaging course. In this video, we go through a normal brain imaging case in a patient who is normal. We first go through a head CT and then the patient’s brain MRI.

Check out the entire course if you haven’t already.


In this video, we are going to go through a normal case together. I’ll show you how to apply what you’ve learned in the other videos on your own. Be aware of the strength of having a structured pattern when looking at the images so you can use them effectively.

Normal Head CT

A normal head CT search pattern begins on the brain images. I go from top to bottom, looking for symmetry, gray-white differentiation, and normal underlying structures. I also first review the brain window, then the bone window, then any reformats.

Click here to get the Head CT

On the brain window, I start at the bottom, reviewing normal structures for symmetry, including normal CSF structures. White matter should be a little less dense than gray matter because it has higher fat/myelin content. You should see some gray-white differentiation in the basal ganglia structures. As you reach the vertex, you should see symmetric sulcation, and the brain should be coated with gray matter in all locations. If you lose gray-white differentiation, that can be a sign of stroke.

CT bone window

On the bone window, I also start at the bottom, looking for any fractures in the skull base, any destructive lesions, and that the cortex is maintained everywhere. I will often come back and look at soft tissues using a soft tissue window, including the orbits, sinuses, and facial soft tissues.

CT reformats

There are two reformats provided with this case. The coronal reformat is great to look at the convexity, the floor of the anterior and middle cranial fossa, and the posterior fossa (cerebellum). The sagittal reformat is similar with the additional advantage of being able to see some midline structures like the corpus callosum really well.

Normal Brain MRI

Reviewing a normal MRI is similar, but you need to make multiple passes because of the different information that is found on different sequences. Each sequence has its own advantages, so use them to your benefit.

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Diffusion weighted imaging

DWI is great for seeing restricted water movement. Strokes and abscesses are usually hyperintense. You can use the ADC (not shown) just to make sure it is not bright from T2 effects only (“T2 shine through”).


FLAIR is a real workhorse of clinical imaging. You can recognize FLAIR because the white matter is darker than gray matter. Pathology will be bright because it has excess water. CSF is suppressed on FLAIR imaging, which makes pathology easier to see.


Gradient recalled echo (GRE) T2 imaging is a blood sensitive sequence which is good to see iron, hemosiderin, blood, and air. These things will be dark on GRE. Some normal structures like blood vessels and iron containing nuclei can be darker normally.


T2 is like FLAIR in that pathology tends to be bright (hyperintense). However, the fluid is not suppressed. This gives you a little bit better view of fluid filled structures like the ventricles but you see pathology in the brain parenchyma worse.

Pre-contrast T1

T1 has the opposite contrast of T2, in that white matter is hyperintense to gray matter. This is a key trick for identifying what kind of imaging you are looking at. T1 precontrast images are great for seeing normal anatomical structures as well as the normal marrow. They are also important to compare pre-contrast

Post-contrast T1

The post-contrast T1 is a key sequence because it will identify areas of breakdown of the blood brain barrier. Pathology like tumors, infection, and demyelination, will often enhance. Some normal structures like vessels, the pituitary, and choroid plexus enhance normally.

Conclusion and recap

Thanks for tuning in to the video. Hopefully now you have developed your own basic approach to brain imaging that you can use on the test cases. On the next video, we’ll review some of the most common brain pathology. The final videos will provide some individual cases you can go through on your own.

See all of the brain course videos on the brain course playlist, or go back to the brain capstone course page.