Various mechanisms are involved in multidrug resistance (MDR) for chemotherapeutic drugs, such as the drug efflux pumps, P-glycoprotein (Pgp) and multidrug resistance-associated protein (MRP). In this review the mechanisms involved in MDR are described and results are reviewed with particular attention to the in vivo imaging of Pgp and MRP. Various detection assays provide information about the presence of drug efflux pumps at the mRNA and protein levels. However, these methods do not yield information about the dynamic function of Pgp and MRP in vivo. For the study of Pgp- and MRP-mediated transport, single-photon emission tomography (SPET) and positron emission tomography (PET) are available. Technetium-99m sestamibi is a substrate for Pgp and MRP, and has been used in clinical studies for tumour imaging, and to visualize blockade of Pgp-mediated transport after modulation of the Pgp pump. Other 99mTc radiopharmaceuticals, such as 99mTc-tetrofosmin and several 99Tc-Q complexes, are also substrates for Pgp, but to date only results from in vitro and animal studies are available for these compounds. Several agents, including [11C]colchicine, [11C]verapamil and [11C]daunorubicin, have been evaluated for the quantification of Pgp-mediated transport with PET in vivo. The results suggest that radiolabelled colchicine, verapamil and daunorubicin are feasible substrates with which to image Pgp function in tumours. Uptake of [11C]colchicine and [11C]verapamil is relatively high in the chest area, reducing the value of both tracers for monitoring Pgp-mediated drug transport in tumours located in this region. In addition, it has to be borne in mind that only comparison of Pgp-mediated transport of radioalabelled substrates in the absence and in the presence of Pgp blockade gives quantitative information on Pgp-mediated pharmacokinetics. Leukotrienes are specific substrates for MRP. Therefore, N-[11C]acetyl-leukotriene E4 provides an opportunity to study MRP function non-invasively. Results obtained in MRP2 mutated GY/TR rats have demonstrated visualization of MRP-mediated transport. This tracer permits the study of MRP transport function abnormalities in vivo, e.g. in Dubin-Johnson patients, who are MRP2 gene deficient. Results obtained show the feasibility of using SPET and PET to study the functionality of MDR transporters in vivo.