Recent reports suggest that nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF) is associated with the administration of gadolinium (Gd)-based contrast agents (GBCAs) and in particular with the stability of the Gd-complex. The aim of this investigation was to compare GBCAs and their potential to trigger NSF. Forty-two healthy male rats received repeated intravenous injections of six different GBCAs at high doses to simulate the exposure seen in patients with severe renal dysfunction. Histopathological and immunohistochemical analysis of the skin was performed, and the concentrations of Gd, zinc and copper were measured in several tissues by inductive coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy. Macroscopic and histological skin changes similar to those seen in NSF patients were only observed in rats receiving Omniscan. In addition, very high concentrations of Gd were observed in the animals treated with Omniscan, and, to a lesser extent, in animals treated with OptiMARK. Significantly lower levels of Gd were found after the treatment with ionic linear agents and even less after the treatment with macrocyclic agents. The data in this investigation strongly suggest that the stability of the Gd-complex is a key factor for the development of NSF-like symptoms in this experimental setting.