Gadolinium-DTPA complex (Gd-DTPA) is a potential clinical magnetic resonance (MR) contrast agent that enhances images primarily by decreasing spin-lattice relaxation time (T1) in tissues in which it localizes. This study was designed to determine the immediate tissue distribution of intravenously administered Gd-DTPA in selected organs of interest as a function of administered dose and tissue Gd-DTPA concentration. An intravenous bolus of Gd-DTPA with a tracer quantity of Gd-153 was administered to three groups of rabbits at the following doses: 0.01 mM/kg (n = 6); 0.05 mM/kg (n = 6); 0.10 mM/kg (n = 6). A control group received sham injections. Five minutes after Gd-DTPA was administered, all animals were killed; samples of serum, lung, heart, kidney, liver, and spleen were analyzed in a 0.25 T MR spectrometer to measure T1, and then in a gamma well counter to determine tissue concentration of Gd-DTPA. Tissue distribution (per cent dose/tissue weight in g) at five minutes after injection was proportionally constant over the range of doses given. Tissue concentration varied linearly with injected dose (r greater than 0.98 for all tissues). Relaxation rate (1/T1) varied linearly with injected dose and with tissue Gd-DTPA concentration (r greater than 0.97 for all tissues). The order of tissue relaxation rate response to a given dose was: kidney greater than serum greater than lung greater than heart greater than liver greater than spleen. We conclude that because of its extracellular distribution and linear relaxation rate versus concentration relationship, Gd-DTPA enhancement in MR images may be a good marker of relative organ perfusion.