Uncal herniation

Uncal herniation is a subtype of transtentorial downward brain herniation, usually related to cerebral mass effect increasing the intracranial pressure.

Abnormal posture and poor GCS. There may be pupillary dilation and loss of light reflex due to direct compression of the oculomotor nerve

In uncal herniation, the uncus and adjacent part of the temporal lobe glide downward across the tentorial incisura compressing the brainstem and the posterior cerebral arteries in the ambient cistern. Uncal herniation may be unilateral or bilateral 1,2.


Uncal herniation occurs secondary to large mass effect (that can occur from traumatic or non-traumatic haemorrhage, malignancy, etc.) that will lead to increased intracranial pressure and herniation.

Uncal herniation can be suggested on CT, however MRI is the gold standard. Mass effect and obliteration of the suprasellar cistern will be seen. The midbrain is displaced and effaced. 


Unilateral transtentorial herniation:

  • more common 
  • uncus and medial temporal lobe displaced medially causing effacement of the suprasellar cistern if mild
  • hippocampus will obliterate the quadrigeminal cistern in moderate transtentorial herniation

Bilateral transtentorial herniation:

  • occurs due to extensive mass effect or severe trauma, less common
  • both temporal lobes herniated into tentorial incisura
  • complete obliteration of suprasellar cistern 
  • midbrain effaced and displaced inferiorly

Uncal herniation carries a bad prognosis due to the direct compression of the vital midbrain centres. They often require emergency neurosurgical decompression. 

  • if uncal herniation is diagnosed, the referring physician should be notified immediately, because of its life-threatening nature
Share article

Article Information

rID: 33688
Section: Pathology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Transtentorial (downward) herniation
  • Descending transtentorial herniation

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Cases and Figures

  • Drag
    Case 1
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 2: with Duret haemorrhage
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Axial FLAIR

The ...
    Case 3
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 4: bilateral
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Drag
    Case 5: with PCA infarct
    Drag here to reorder.
  • Updating… Please wait.

    Alert accept

    Error Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

    Alert accept Thank you for updating your details.