Inversion recovery (IR) sequences with an inversion time (TI) designed to markedly reduce or null the signal from CSF (TI of approximately 2,100 ms at 1.0 T) and a very long echo time (TE) of 240 ms were used to image the brain of two normal adult volunteers, one 34-year-old man with an intrinsic tumor, and one 3-month-old infant with an infarct. Using these very heavily T2-weighted pulse sequences, adult gray and white matter showed similar signal intensity in many areas of the brain, but normal white matter in regions of the centrum semiovale, posterior internal capsule, parietopontile tract, occipitothalamic radiation, and brain stem showed a much higher signal intensity than surrounding gray or white matter. The infant displayed a low signal intensity in myelinated regions in the internal capsule and occipitothalamic radiation and a high signal in unmyelinated white matter. In many of the images there were strong similarities to the distribution of high signal within white matter seen with pulsed gradient spin echo sequences (TE 130 ms) designed to demonstrate effects due to anisotropic diffusion. Arguments are advanced to support the view that the high signal intensity in white matter tracts is due to one or more long T2 components that may be associated with unmyelinated or sparsely myelinated fibres within white matter. The resemblance to diffusion weighted images may reflect the fact that both employ long TEs and both produce a low signal from CSF. If myelin possessed a different susceptibility from axoplasm so that magnetic field gradients were generated around nerve fibres when their orientation was not parallel to B0, diffusion of water might then produce the observed dependence on fibre direction. The high signal regions in white matter are a potential source of confusion in image interpretation, and measurements of T2 in white matter need to be made with these regional variations in mind. The concept of normal appearing white matter also needs to be applied with a knowledge of these differences. The IR sequences used in this study provide a very high T2 dependence with a low signal from CSF and may be useful for detecting disease in the CNS of adults and children.