Molecular imaging is a rapidly emerging field in biomedical research, aiming at the visualization, characterization and quantification of molecular and cellular processes non-invasively within intact living organisms. To sense biological processes such as gene expression, angiogenesis, apoptosis or cell trafficking in vivo, imaging reporter agents that interact specifically with molecular targets and appropriate imaging systems are currently under development. In rheumatoid arthritis, these novel tools will be used to evaluate physiological and pathophysiological processes, to facilitate diagnosis and monitor therapeutic regimens, to enable reliable prognosis and to support the development of new therapies. In this review, we summarize the basic principles of molecular imaging, such as the development of molecular imaging agents, the actual capabilities of different imaging modalities and the most recent advances in molecular imaging, demonstrating the potential of this technology. With regard to their applicability in rheumatic diseases, we discuss potential molecular targets, current experimental approaches and the future prospects for molecular imaging in rheumatoid arthritis.