Gadolinium (Gd)-DTPA complex was assessed as a nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) contrast-enhancing agent by experimentally imaging normal and diseased animals. After intravenous injection, Gd-DTPA, a strongly paramagnetic complex by virtue of unpaired electrons, was rapidly excreted into the urine of rats, producing an easily observable contrast enhancement on NMR images in kidney parenchyma and urine. Spin-echo intensity of urine within the renal pelvis increased from 2263 to 4414 units; intensity of renal parenchyma increased from 2901 to 3893 after administration of 0.1 mmol/kg Gd-DTPA. Sterile soft-tissue abscesses demonstrated an obvious rim pattern of enhancement. A focus of radiation-induced brain damage in a canine model was only faintly detectable on spin-echo NMR images before contrast administration; after 0.5 mmol/kg Gd-DTPA administration, the lesion intensity increased from 3867 to 5590. In comparison, the normal brain with an intact blood-brain barrier remained unchanged in NMR characterization. Gd-DTPA is a promising new NMR contrast enhancer for the clinical assessment of renal function, of inflammatory lesions, and of focal disruption of the blood-brain barrier.