Cortical spreading depression (CSD) and peri-infarct depolarisation (PID) are related phenomena that have been associated with the human clinical syndromes of migraine (CSD), head injury and stroke (PID). Nevertheless the existence of CSD in man remains controversial, despite the detection of this phenomenon in the brains of most, if not all, other animal species investigated. This failure to unambiguously detect CSD clinically may be at least partly due to the anatomically complex, gyrencephalic structure of the human brain. This study was designed to establish conditions for the study of CSD in the brain of a gyrencephalic species using the noninvasive technique of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The 3-dimensional (3D) gyrencephalic anatomy of the cat brain was examined to determine the imaging conditions necessary to detect CSD events. Orthogonal transverse, sagittal and horizontal T1-weighted image slices showed that the marginal and suprasylvian gyri were the most appropriate cortical structures to study CSD. This was in view of (1) their simple geometry: (2) their lengthy extent of grey matter orientated rostrocaudally in the cortex: (3) their separation by a sulcus across which CSD spread could be studied and (4) the discontinuity in the grey matter in these regions between the right and left hemispheres dorsal to the corpus callosum. The structure suggested by the T1-weighted images was corroborated by systematic diffusion tensor imaging to map the fractional anisotropy and diffusion trace. Thus a single horizontal image plane could visualise the neighbouring suprasylvian and marginal gyri of both cerebral hemispheres, whereas its complex shape and position ruled out the ectosylvian gyrus for CSD studies. With the horizontal imaging plane, CSD events were reproducibly detected by animating successive diffusion-weighted MR images following local KCl stimulation of the cortical surface. In single image frames, CSD detection and characterisation required image subtraction or statistical mapping methods that, nevertheless, yielded concordant results. In repeat experiments, CSD events were qualitatively similar in appearance whether elicited by sustained or transient KCl applications. Our experimental approach thus successfully describes cat brain anatomy in vivo, and elucidates the necessary conditions for the application of MRI methods to detect CSD propagation.