Nanobody: the "magic bullet" for molecular imaging?

Theranostics. 2014 Jan 29;4(4):386-98. doi: 10.7150/thno.8006. eCollection 2014.


Molecular imaging involves the non-invasive investigation of biological processes in vivo at the cellular and molecular level, which can play diverse roles in better understanding and treatment of various diseases. Recently, single domain antigen-binding fragments known as 'nanobodies' were bioengineered and tested for molecular imaging applications. Small molecular size (~15 kDa) and suitable configuration of the complementarity determining regions (CDRs) of nanobodies offer many desirable features suitable for imaging applications, such as rapid targeting and fast blood clearance, high solubility, high stability, easy cloning, modular nature, and the capability of binding to cavities and difficult-to-access antigens. Using nanobody-based probes, several imaging techniques such as radionuclide-based, optical and ultrasound have been employed for visualization of target expression in various disease models. This review summarizes the recent developments in the use of nanobody-based probes for molecular imaging applications. The preclinical data reported to date are quite promising, and it is expected that nanobody-based molecular imaging agents will play an important role in the diagnosis and management of various diseases.

Keywords: Nanobody; arthritis; atherosclerosis; cancer; molecular imaging; positron emission tomography (PET).

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen / analysis
  • ErbB Receptors / analysis
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor / analysis
  • Humans
  • Lectins, C-Type / analysis
  • Mannose-Binding Lectins / analysis
  • Molecular Imaging / methods*
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Receptors, Cell Surface / analysis
  • Single-Domain Antibodies*


  • Carcinoembryonic Antigen
  • Lectins, C-Type
  • Mannose-Binding Lectins
  • Receptors, Cell Surface
  • Single-Domain Antibodies
  • mannose receptor
  • Hepatocyte Growth Factor
  • ErbB Receptors