, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 469-490

First online:

Efficiency, thermodynamic and kinetic stability of marketed gadolinium chelates and their possible clinical consequences: a critical review

  • Marc PortAffiliated withGuerbet, Research Division Email author 
  • , Jean-Marc IdéeAffiliated withGuerbet, Research Division
  • , Christelle MedinaAffiliated withGuerbet, Research Division
  • , Caroline RobicAffiliated withGuerbet, Research Division
  • , Monique SabatouAffiliated withGuerbet, Research Division
  • , Claire CorotAffiliated withGuerbet, Research Division

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Gadolinium-based contrast agents are widely used to enhance image contrast in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures. Over recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the physicochemical properties of gadolinium chelates used as contrast agents for MRI procedures, as it has been suggested that dechelation of these molecules could be involved in the mechanism of a recently described disease, namely nephrogenic systemic fibrosis (NSF). The aim of this paper is to discuss the structure-physicochemical properties relationships of marketed gadolinium chelates in regards to their biological consequences. Marketed gadolinium chelates can be classified according to key molecular design parameters: (a) nature of the chelating moiety: macrocyclic molecules in which Gd3+ is caged in the pre-organized cavity of the ligand, or linear open-chain molecules, (b) ionicity: the ionicity of the complex varies from neutral to tri-anionic agents, and (c) the presence or absence of an aromatic lipophilic residue responsible for protein binding. All these molecular characteristics have a profound impact on the physicochemical characteristics of the pharmaceutical solution such as osmolality, viscosity but also on their efficiency in relaxing water protons (relaxivity) and their biodistribution. These key molecular parameters can also explain why gadolinium chelates differ in terms of their thermodynamic stability constants and kinetic stability, as demonstrated by numerous in vitro and in vivo studies, resulting in various formulations of pharmaceutical solutions of marketed contrast agents. The concept of kinetic and thermodynamic stability is critically discussed as it remains a somewhat controversial topic, especially in predicting the amount of free gadolinium which may result from dechelation of chelates in physiological or pathological situations. A high kinetic stability provided by the macrocyclic structure combined with a high thermodynamic stability (reinforced by ionicity for macrocyclic chelates) will minimize the amount of free gadolinium released in tissue parenchymas.


Magnetic resonance imaging Contrast agents Gadolinium Osmolality Viscosity Relaxivity Thermodynamic stability Kinetic stability Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis