Contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging of central nervous system tumors: agents, mechanisms, and applications

Top Magn Reson Imaging. 2006 Apr;17(2):89-106. doi: 10.1097/01.rmr.0000245464.36148.dc.


Brain tumors are one of the most common neoplasms in young adults and are associated with a high mortality and disability rate. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is widely accepted to be the most sensitive imaging modality in the assessment of cerebral neoplasms. Because the detection, characterization, and exact delineation of brain tumors require a high lesion contrast that depends on the signal of the lesion in relation to the surrounding tissue, contrast media is given routinely. Anatomical and functional, contrast agent-based MRI techniques allow for a better differential diagnosis, grading, and especially therapy decision, planing, and follow-up. In this article, the basics of contrast enhancement of brain tumors will be reviewed. The underlying pathology of a disrupted blood-brain barrier and drug influences will be discussed. An overview of the currently available contrast media and the influences of dosage, field strength, and application on the tumor tissue contrast will be given. Challenging, contrast-enhanced, functional imaging techniques, such as perfusion MRI and dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI, are presented both from the technical side and the clinical experience in the assessment of brain tumors. The advantages over conventional, anatomical MRI techniques will be discussed as well as possible pitfalls and drawbacks.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Contrast Media* / classification
  • Gadolinium
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Radiographic Image Enhancement


  • Contrast Media
  • Organometallic Compounds
  • Gadolinium