Carcinoma of the prostate is the most frequent diagnosed malignant tumor in men and is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in this group. The cure rate of prostate cancer is highly dependent on the stage of disease at the diagnosis and early detection is key to designing effective treatment strategies. The objective of the present study is to make a specific MR imaging probe for targeted imaging of cancer cells. We take advantage of the fact that many types of prostate cancer cells express high levels of prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA) on their cell surface. The imaging strategy is to use superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles (SPIONs), attached to an antibody (J591) that binds to the extracellular domain of PSMA, to specifically enhance the contrast of PSMA-expressing prostate cancer cells. Conjugation of mAb J591 to commercial SPIONs was achieved using a heterobifunctional linker, sulfo-SMCC. Two types of prostate cancer cell lines were chosen for experiments: LNCaP (PSMA+) and DU145 (PSMA−). MRI and cell uptake experiments demonstrated the high potential of the synthesized nanoprobe as a specific MRI contrast agent for detection of PSMA-expressing prostate cancer cells. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.