Gadolinium-based contrast agent toxicity: a review of known and proposed mechanisms

Biometals. 2016 Jun;29(3):365-76. doi: 10.1007/s10534-016-9931-7. Epub 2016 Apr 6.


Gadolinium chelates are widely used as contrast media for magnetic resonance imaging. The approved gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) have historically been considered safe and well tolerated when used at recommended dosing levels. However, for nearly a decade, an association between GBCA administration and the development of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF) has been recognized in patients with severe renal impairment. This has led to modifications in clinical practices aimed at reducing the potential and incidence of NSF development. Newer reports have emerged regarding the accumulation of gadolinium in various tissues of patients who do not have renal impairment, including bone, brain, and kidneys. Despite the observations of gadolinium accumulation in tissues regardless of renal function, very limited clinical data regarding the potential for and mechanisms of toxicity is available. This significant gap in knowledge warrants retrospective cohort study efforts, as well as prospective studies that involve gadolinium ion (Gd(3+)) testing in patients exposed to GBCA. This review examines the potential biochemical and molecular basis of gadolinium toxicity, possible clinical significance of gadolinium tissue retention and accumulation, and methods that can limit gadolinium body burden.

Keywords: Gadolinium; Gadolinium chelation; Gadolinium toxicity; Gadolinium toxicity mechanisms; Gadolinium-based contrast agent (GBCA); Magnetic resonance imaging.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Contrast Media / adverse effects*
  • Contrast Media / metabolism
  • Contrast Media / pharmacokinetics
  • Gadolinium / adverse effects*
  • Gadolinium / metabolism
  • Gadolinium / pharmacokinetics
  • Humans


  • Contrast Media
  • Gadolinium