Ferumoxtran-10 (Combidex), a dextran-coated iron oxide nanoparticle, provides enhancement of intracranial tumours by magnetic resonance (MR) for more than 24 h and can be imaged histologically by iron staining. Our goal was to compare ferumoxtran imaging and histochemistry vs. gadolinium enhancement in malignant brain tumours on preoperative and postoperative MR. Seven patients with primary and metastatic malignant tumours underwent MR imaging with gadolinium and ferumoxtran both pre- and postoperatively. Normalized signal intensities on the ferumoxtran-enhanced scans were determined in representative regions of interest. Resected tissue from six ferumoxtran patients and from three patients who did not receive ferumoxtran was assessed for localization of iron in tumour and reactive brain. All malignant tumours (all of which enhanced by gadolinium MR) showed ferumoxtran accumulation with T1 and T2 signal changes, even using a 0.15 T intraoperative MR unit in one patient. Iron staining was predominantly in reactive cells (reactive astrocytes and macrophages) and not tumour cells. In five of the seven patients, including two patients who showed additional lesions, areas enhancing with ferumoxtran but not with gadolinium were observed. Comparison of the pre- and postoperative MR revealed residual ferumoxtran-enhancing areas in four of seven cases. In malignant tumours, ferumoxtran may show areas of enhancement, even with a 0.15 T intraoperative MR, that do not enhance with gadolinium. Ferumoxtran-enhancing lesions have persistent increased T1 signal intensity for 2-5 days, which may provide advantages over gadolinium for postoperative imaging. Histochemistry for iron shows uptake of ferumoxtran in reactive cells (astrocytes and macrophages) rather than tumour cells.