FDA Drug Safety Communication: FDA identifies no harmful effects to date with brain retention of gadolinium-based contrast agents for MRIs; review to continue

[ 5-22-2017 ] A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review to date has not identified adverse health effects from gadolinium retained in the brain after the use of gadolinium-based contrast agents (GBCAs) for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). All GBCAs may be associated with some gadolinium retention in the brain and other body tissues. However, because we identified no evidence to date that gadolinium retention in the brain from any of the GBCAs, including GBCAs associated with higher retention of gadolinium, is harmful, restricting GBCA use is not warranted at this time. We will continue to assess the safety of GBCAs and plan to have a public meeting to discuss this issue in the future.

Our recommendations for health care professionals and patients remain unchanged from July 2015 when we informed the public that we were investigating this potential risk with GBCAs. As is appropriate when considering the use of any medical imaging agent, health care professionals should limit GBCA use to circumstances in which additional information provided by the contrast agent is necessary, and assess the necessity of repetitive MRIs with GBCAs. Patients, parents, and caregivers should talk to their health care professionals if they have any questions or concerns about the use of GBCAs with MRIs. Retention of gadolinium affects only GBCAs, and does not apply to other types of scanning agents used for other imaging procedures, such as those that are iodine-based or radioisotopes.

GBCAs contain gadolinium, a type of heavy metal, that is linked to a carrier molecule. MRIs are a way to scan the body for problems such as cancer, infections, or bleeding. GBCAs are injected into a vein to enhance the quality of the MRI images of internal organs, blood vessels, and tissues, which helps health care professionals diagnose medical conditions. There are two types of GBCAs based on their chemical structures, linear GBCAs and macrocyclic GBCAs.

We evaluated scientific publications1-17 and adverse event reports submitted to FDA. Some human and animal studies looked at GBCA use over periods longer than a year. These publications and reports show that gadolinium is retained in organs such as the brain, bones, and skin. The publications show that linear GBCAs retain more gadolinium in the brain than macrocyclic GBCAs. However, our review did not identify adverse health effects related to this brain retention.

To date, the only known adverse health effect related to gadolinium retention is a rare condition called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF) that occurs in a small subgroup of patients with pre-existing kidney failure. NSF is a painful skin disease characterized by thickening of the skin, which can involve the joints and cause significant limitation of motion within weeks to months. Recent publications report cases of reactions involving thickening and hardening of the skin and other tissues in patients with normal kidney function who received GBCAs and did not have NSF; some of these patients also had evidence of gadolinium retention.3, 12, 16 We are continuing to evaluate such reports to determine if these fibrotic reactions are an adverse health effect of retained gadolinium.

The manufacturer of OptiMARK (gadoversetamide), a linear GBCA, updated its label with information about gadolinium retention in various body organs such as the brain, skin, and other organs. We are reviewing the labels of other GBCAs to determine if changes are needed.

A recent review by the Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC) of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) also identified no adverse health effects with gadolinium retention in the brain, but that Committee recommended suspending the marketing authorization of certain linear GBCAs because they cause a greater retention of gadolinium in the brain compared to macrocyclic GBCAs. The Committee’s recommendation is currently undergoing an appeal, which will be further reviewed by the PRAC and subsequently by the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use.18

We are continuing to assess the safety of GBCAs. FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) is conducting a study on brain retention of GBCAs in rats. Other research is also being conducted about how gadolinium is retained in the body. We will update the public when new information becomes available and we plan to have a public meeting to discuss this issue in the future.

We urge patients and health care professionals to report side effects involving GBCAs or other medicines to the FDA MedWatch program, using the information in the “Contact FDA” box at the bottom of the page.

FDA-Approved GBCAs

Brand nameGeneric nameStructure
Ablavargadofosveset trisodiumlinear
Dotaremgadoterate megluminemacrocyclic
Eovistgadoxetate disodiumlinear
Magnevistgadopentetate dimegluminelinear
MultiHancegadobenate dimegluminelinear
  1. Bae S, Lee HJ, Han K,Park YW, Choi YS, Ahn SS, et al. Gadolinium deposition in the brain: association with various GBCAs using a generalized additive model. Eur Radiol 2017 Jan 12. doi: 10.1007/s00330-016-4724-5. [Epub ahead of print].
  2. Girardi M, Kay J, Elston DM, Leboit PE, Abu-Alfa A, Cowper SE. Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis: clinicopathological definition and workup recommendations. J Am Acad Dermatol 2011;65:1095-106.
  3. Gathings RM, Reddy R, Cruz DS, Brodell RT. Gadolinium-associated plaques: a new, distinctive clinical entity. JAMA Dermatol 2015;151:316-9.
  4. Hu HH, Pokorney A, Towbin RB, Miller JH. Increased signal intensities in the dentate nucleus and globus pallidus on unenhanced T1-weighted images: evidence in children undergoing multiple gadolinium MRI exams. Pediatr Radiol 2016;46:1590-8.
  5. Kahn J, Posch H, Steffen IG, Geisel D, Bauknecht C, Liebig T, et al. Is there long-term signal intensity increase in the central nervous system on T1-weighted images after MR imaging with the hepatospecific contrast agent gadoxetic acid? a cross-sectional study in 91 patients. Radiology 2017;282:708-16.
  6. Ichikawa S, Motosugi U, Omiya Y, Onishi H. Contrast agent-induced high signal intensity in dentate nucleus on unenhanced T1-weighted images: comparison of gadodiamide and gadoxetic acid. Invest Radiol 2017 Feb 11. doi: 10.1097/RLI.0000000000000360. [Epub ahead of print].
  7. Miller JH, Hu HH, Pokorney A, Cornejo P, Towbin R. MRI brain signal intensity changes of a child during the course of 35 gadolinium contrast examinations. Pediatrics 2015;136:e1637-40.
  8. Roberts DR, Holden KR. Progressive increase of T1 signal intensity in the dentate nucleus and globus pallidus on unenhanced T1-weighted MR images in the pediatric brain exposed to multiple doses of gadolinium contrast. Brain Dev 2016;38:331-6.
  9. Maximova N, Gregori M, Zennaro F, Sonzogni A, Simeone R, Zanon D. Hepatic gadolinium deposition and reversibility after contrast agent-enhanced MR imaging of pediatric hematopoietic stem cell transplant recipients. Radiology 2016;281:418-426.
  10. Murata N, Gonzalez-Cuyar LF, Murata K, Fligner C, Dills R, Hippe D, et al. Macrocyclic and other non-group 1 gadolinium contrast agents deposit low levels of gadolinium in brain and bone tissue: preliminary results from 9 patients with normal renal function. Invest Radiol 2016;51:447-53.
  11. Murata N, Murata K, Gonzalez-Cuyar LF, Maravilla KR. Gadolinium tissue deposition in brain and bone. Magn Reson Imaging 2016;34:1359-1365.
  12. Roberts DR, Lindhorst SM, Welsh CT, Maravilla KR, Herring MN, Braun KA, et al. High levels of gadolinium deposition in the skin of a patient with normal renal function. Invest Radiol 2016;51:280-9.
  13. Burke LM, Ramalho M, AlObaidy M, Chang E, Jay M, Semelka RC. Self-reported gadolinium toxicity: A survey of patients with chronic symptoms. Magn Reson Imaging 2016;34:1078-80.
  14. Semelka RC, Ramalho J, Vakharia A, AlObaidy M, Burke LM, Jay M, et al. Gadolinium deposition disease: initial description of a disease that has been around for a while. Magn Reson Imaging 2016;34:1383-90.
  15. Semelka RC, Ramalho M, AlObaidy M, Ramalho J. Gadolinium in humans: A family of disorders. AJR Am J Roentgenol 2016;207:229-33.
  16. Semelka RC, Commander CW, Jay M, Burke LM, Ramalho M. Presumed gadolinium toxicity in subjects with normal renal function: a report of 4 cases. Invest Radiol 2016;51:661-5.
  17. Malayeri AA, Brooks KM, Bryant LH, Evers R, Kumar P, Reich DS, et al. National Institutes of Health perspective on reports of gadolinium deposition in the brain. J Am Coll Radiol 2016;13:237-41.
  18. European Medicines Agency. Gadolinium-containing contrast agents. http://www.ema.europa.eu/ema/index.jsp?curl=pages/medicines/human/referrals/Gadolinium-containing_contrast_agents/human_referral_prac_000056.jsp&mid=WC0b01ac05805c516fdisclaimer icon. Published March 10, 2017; updated April 7, 2017. Accessed May 9, 2017.


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