The purpose of this study is to optimize labeling of the human natural killer (NK) cell line NK-92 with iron-oxide-based contrast agents and to monitor the in vivo distribution of genetically engineered NK-92 cells, which are directed against HER2/neu receptors, to HER2/neu positive mammary tumors with magnetic resonance (MR) imaging. Parental NK-92 cells and genetically modified HER2/neu specific NK-92-scFv(FRP5)-zeta cells, expressing a chimeric antigen receptor specific to the tumor-associated ErbB2 (HER2/neu) antigen, were labeled with ferumoxides and ferucarbotran using simple incubation, lipofection and electroporation techniques. Labeling efficiency was evaluated by MR imaging, Prussian blue stains and spectrometry. Subsequently, ferucarbotran-labeled NK-92-scFv(FRP5)-zeta (n=3) or parental NK-92 cells were intravenously injected into the tail vein of six mice with HER2/neu-positive NIH 3T3 mammary tumors, implanted in the mammary fat pad. The accumulation of the cells in the tumors was monitored by MR imaging before and 12 and 24 h after cell injection (p.i.). MR data were correlated with histopathology. Both the parental NK-92 and the genetically modified NK-92-scFv(FRP5)-zeta cells could be labeled with ferucarbotran and ferumoxides by lipofection and electroporation, but not by simple incubation. The intracellular cytoplasmatic iron-oxide uptake was significantly higher after labeling with ferucarbotran than ferumoxides (P<0.05). After intravenous injection of 5 x 10(6) NK-92-scFv(FRP5)-zeta cells into tumor-bearing mice, MR showed a progressive signal decline in HER2/neu-positive mammary tumors at 12 and 24 h (p.i.). Conversely, injection of 5 x 10(6) parental NK-92 control cells, not directed against HER2/neu receptors, did not cause significant signal intensity changes of the tumors. Histopathology confirmed an accumulation of the former, but not the latter cells in tumor tissue. The human natural killer cell line NK-92 can be efficiently labeled with clinically applicable iron-oxide contrast agents, and the accumulation of these labeled cells in murine tumors can be monitored in vivo with MR imaging. This MR cell tracking technique may be applied to monitor NK-cell based immunotherapies in patients in order to assess the presence and extent of NK-cell tumor accumulations and, thus, to determine therapy response early and non-invasively.