Abstract Macromolecular conjugates of two kinds of natural polysaccharides, that from Panax quinquefolium linn (PQPS) and Ganoderma applanatum pat (GAPS), with gadolinium-diethylenetriaminepenta-acetic acid (Gd-DTPA) have been synthesized and characterized by means of FTIR, elementary analysis and ICP-AES. Their stability was investigated by competition study with Ca 2+, EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) and DTPA. Polysaccharide-bound complexes exhibit T 1 relaxivities of 1.5–1.7 times that of Gd-DTPA in D 2O at 25°C and 9.4 T. MR imaging of Sprague–Dawley (SD) rats showed remarkable enhancement in rat liver and kidney after i.v. injection of these two complexes: liver parenchyma 60.9±5.6%, 57.8±7.4% at 65–85 min; kidney 144.9±14.5%, 199.9±25.4% at 10–30 min for PQPS-Gd-DTPA, GAPS-Gd-DTPA at gadolinium dose of 0.083 and 0.082 mmol/kg, respectively. Our preliminary in vivo and in vitro study indicates that the two kinds of polysaccharide-bound complexes are potential tissue-specific contrast agents for MRI.