Objectives: Several recent publications have suggested an association between the administration of gadolinium (Gd)-based contrast agents and the occurrence of Nephrogenic Systemic Fibrosis (NSF), an acquired disorder marked by skin thickening and fibrosis occurring in patients with severe renal dysfunction. The aim of this study was to establish a preclinical experimental setting to investigate the possible link between NSF and Gd-based contrast agents, and specifically the role of Gd and/or depletion of endogenous metal ions as possible triggers for NSF.
Materials and methods: Thirty-five healthy male rats received repeated intravenous injections of Magnevist (gadopentetate dimeglumine; Gd-DTPA), Omniscan (gadodiamide; Gd-DTPA-BMA), or gadodiamide without caldiamide at a dose of 2.5 mmol Gd/kg body weight over at least 20 days to simulate the exposure to Gd-containing contrast agents in patients with severe renal dysfunction. In addition, caldiamide (the excess ligand in Omniscan) and Gd-ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid (Gd-EDTA) as a positive control, and saline as a negative control were studied. Histopathologic and immunohistochemical analysis of the skin was performed. Gd and zinc concentrations were measured in skin, femur, and liver tissue by atomic emission spectrometry.
Results: Rats receiving Gd-EDTA, gadodiamide without caldiamide, and Omniscan developed epidermal ulceration and acanthosis, dermo-epidermal clefts, minimal-to-slight dermal fibrosis, and increased dermal infiltration of different cells, partly positive for CD34 fibrocytes. No such NSF-like macroscopic lesions were observed in the saline, caldiamide, and Magnevist groups. High Gd concentrations in the skin were found in the Gd-EDTA, gadodiamide without caldiamide, and Omniscan groups. In the Magnevist group, Gd levels in the skin were 10-times lower than in the Omniscan-treated animals but elevated compared with saline.
Conclusions: A preclinical experimental setting has been established where NSF-like lesions could be observed. The link between the application of Gd-based contrast media and the induction of NSF-like lesions was established. The data indicate that the observed skin lesions are related to the release of Gd and not to the depletion of endogenous ions. The investigations further suggest potential importance of the stability of Gd-based contrast agents.