Monovalent fragments of antineuroblastoma antibody mAb chCE7 were evaluated for their in vitro and in vivo tumor cell binding properties. Single chain fragments were constructed from the variable region genes cloned from hybridoma cells, expressed in E.coli and purified by metal chelate affinity chromatography. Radioiodinated CE7-scFv fragments were found to bind with high affinity (Kd approximately 10(-9) M) to target cells in vitro but formed aggregates at 37 degrees C, and bound to serum proteins in vitro and in vivo. Circular Dichroism spectra revealed the protein to be in a conformationally altered form and no permanent "refolding" could be achieved. In contrast, chCE7- Fab fragments were found to bind to target tumor cells with similar affinity than the parent mAb chCE7 (Kd approximately 10(-10) M), showed no tendency to aggregate and were stable in serum both in vitro and in vivo. Kinetics of association and dissociation of radioiodinated scFv and Fab fragments were found to be rapid. Radioiodination with the Iodogen method led to impaired immunoreactivity which was found to further increase the off- rates of radioiodinated fragments from tumor cells. Radioiodination with the Bolton-Hunter reagent as well as labeling of chCE7-Fab fragments with 67Cu via the macrocyclic CPTA ligand led to fully immunoreactive Fab fragments. Radioiodinated and radiocopper labeled monovalent CE7 fragments did not internalize into target tumor cells as the parent mAb and its F(ab')2 fragment. A comparison of the biodistribution in tumor bearing nude mice of the radiocopper labeled monovalent, non internalizing Fab fragments with the internalizing divalent F(ab')2 fragments showed in both cases high levels of radioactivity in the kidneys. Concerning tumor uptake, radioactivity from both internalizing and non internalizing fragments remained associated with tumor tissue for longer times than in case of the corresponding radioiodinated fragments. When compared with the radioiodinated forms, tumor uptake of radiocopper-labeled 67Cu-chCE7 and its F(ab')2 fragments was found to be higher. However in the case of the non internalizing 67Cu-chCE7-Fab fragment no increase in the absolute amount of radioactivity in tumor tissue compared with the radioiodinated Fab was observed, indicating an advantage of using radiocopper labeling in conjunction with internalizing antibody fragments for delivering high doses of radioactivity to neuroblastoma.