A study was undertaken of the role of osmotoxicity in gadolinium (Gd) and iodine contrast media (CM) nephrotoxicity in ischemic porcine kidneys. Test solutions: mannitol iso-osmotic to 0.5 M: gadopentetate (1.96 Osm/kg H2O), 0.5 M: gadodiamide (0.78 Osm/kg H2O) and 0.5 M: iohexol (190 mg I/ml, 0.42 Osm/kg H2O). Each solution was injected [3 ml/kg body weight (BW)] into the balloon-occluded (10 min) renal artery of eight left-sided nephrectomized pigs. The plasma half-life of a glomerular filtration rate (GFR) marker was used to compare their effects on GFR 1-3 h post-injection. The median half-lives of the GFR marker after injection of gadopentetate (1,730 min) and mannitol 1.96 Osm/kg H2O (2,782 min) did not differ statistically (P = 0.28), but were significantly longer than after all other solutions (P < 0.001). There was no significant difference (P = 0.06) between gadodiamide (218 min) and mannitol 0.82 Osm/kg H2O (169 min), while there was (P = 0.03) between iohexol (181 min) and mannitol 0.43 Osm/kg H2O (148 min). The difference between gadodiamide and iohexol was significant (P = 0.01). Reduction in GFR, as a marker of nephrotoxicity, induced by gadopentetate correlated with its high osmolality, while the effect of gadodiamide and iohexol may include chemotoxicity. Iohexol molecules were less nephrotoxic than the Gd-CM molecules and contain three-times the number of attenuating atoms per molecule.