Quantification and Assessment of the Chemical Form of Residual Gadolinium in the Brain After Repeated Administration of Gadolinium-Based Contrast Agents: Comparative Study in Rats

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Multiple clinical and preclinical studies have reported a signal intensity increase and the presence of gadolinium (Gd) in the brain after repeated administration of Gd-based contrast agents (GBCAs). This bioanalytical study in rat brain tissue was initiated to investigate whether the residual Gd is present as intact GBCA or in other chemical forms by using tissue fractionation and chromatography.

Materials and Methods

Rats were divided randomly in 6 groups of 10 animals each. They received 10 daily injections of 2.5 mmol/kg bodyweight of 1 of 5 different GBCAs: linear GBCAs such as gadodiamide (Omniscan; GE Healthcare), gadopentetate dimeglumine (Gd-DTPA, Magnevist; Bayer), or gadobenate dimeglumine (Multihance; Bracco) and macrocyclic GBCAs such as gadobutrol (Gadovist; Bayer) and gadoterate meglumine (Gd-DOTA, Dotarem; Guerbet) or saline. On days 3 and 24 after the last injection (p.i.), 5 randomly chosen animals of each group were killed by exsanguination, and their brains were excised and divided into cerebrum, pons, and cerebellum. The brain sections were homogenized by sonication in ice-cold buffer at pH 7.4. Soluble and insoluble fractions were separated by centrifugation, and the soluble fractions were further separated by gel permeation chromatography (GPC). The Gd concentration in all tissue fractions and in the GPC eluate was measured by inductively coupled plasma–mass spectrometry. In a recovery control experiment, all GBCAs were spiked to blank brain tissue and more than 94% recovery of Gd in the tissue fractions was demonstrated.


Only traces of the administered Gd were found in the rat brain tissue on day 3 and day 24 p.i. In the animals treated with macrocyclic GBCAs, Gd was found only in the soluble brain fraction and was present solely as low molecular weight molecules, most likely the intact GBCA. In the animals treated with linear GBCAs Gd was found to a large extent in the insoluble tissue fraction. The Gd concentration in the soluble fraction was comparable to the macrocyclic agents. According to GPC, a smaller portion of the Gd in the soluble fraction of the linear GBCAs groups was bound to macromolecules larger than 250 to 300 kDa. The nature of the Gd-containing macromolecules and the insoluble species were not determined, but they appeared to be saturable with Gd. The excretion of the soluble Gd species in the linear and macrocyclic GBCA groups was still ongoing between days 3 and 24 p.i. This was also observed for the macromolecular Gd species in the linear GBCA groups, but at a slower rate.


The residual Gd found in the rat brain after repeated administration of all 3 linear GBCAs was present in at least 3 distinctive forms—soluble small molecules, including the intact GBCA, soluble macromolecules, and to a large extent in insoluble form. The latter 2 are most likely responsible for the prolonged signal intensity enhancement in brain structures observed in magnetic resonance imaging. No relevant differences between the 3 linear GBCAs were observed. The Gd concentrations in the brain after administration of macrocyclic GBCAs are lower, and the Gd is only present in soluble small molecules, which were slowly excreted. This underlines the crucial importance of the kinetic inertness of macrocyclic agents in the prevention of potential retention of Gd in the brain compared with the 3 linear, kinetically less restricted GBCAs.

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