Gadolinium deposition in human brain tissues after contrast-enhanced MR imaging in adult patients without intracranial abnormalities

Robert J. McDonald, Jennifer S. McDonald, David F. Kallmes, Mark E. Jentoft, Michael A. Paolini, David L. Murray, Eric E. Williamson, Laurence J. Eckel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

173 Scopus citations


Purpose: To determine whether gadolinium deposits in neural tissues of patients with intracranial abnormalities following intravenous gadolinium-based contrast agent (GBCA) exposure might be related to blood-brain barrier integrity by studying adult patients with normal brain pathologic characteristics. Materials and Methods: After obtaining antemortem consent and institutional review board approval, the authors compared postmortem neuronal tissue samples from five patients who had undergone four to 18 gadolinium-enhanced magnetic resonance (MR) examinations between 2005 and 2014 (contrast group) with samples from 10 gadolinium-naive patients who had undergone at least one MR examination during their lifetime (control group). All patients in the contrast group had received gadodiamide. Neuronal tissues from the dentate nuclei, pons, globus pallidus, and thalamus were harvested and analyzed with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS), transmission electron microscopy with energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy, and light microscopy to quantify, localize, and assess the effects of gadolinium deposition. Results: Tissues from the four neuroanatomic regions of gadodiamide- exposed patients contained 0.1-19.4 mg of gadolinium per gram of tissue in a statistically significant dose-dependent relationship (globus pallidus: r = 0.90, P = .04). In contradistinction, patients in the control group had undetectable levels of gadolinium with ICP-MS. All patients had normal brain pathologic characteristics at autopsy. Three patients in the contrast group had borderline renal function (estimated glomerular filtration rate <45 mL/min/1.73 m2) and hepatobiliary dysfunction at MR examination. Gadolinium deposition in the contrast group was localized to the capillary endothelium and neuronal interstitium and, in two cases, within the nucleus of the cell. Conclusion: Gadolinium deposition in neural tissues after GBCA administration occurs in the absence of intracranial abnormalities that might affect the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. These findings challenge current understanding of the biodistribution of these contrast agents and their safety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)546-554
Number of pages9
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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