The estrogen receptor (ER) is a major prognostic biomarker of breast cancer, currently determined in surgical specimens by immunohistochemistry. Two new ER-targeted probes, pyridine-tetra-acetate-Gd chelate (PTA-Gd) conjugated either to 17β-estradiol (EPTA-Gd) or to tamoxifen (TPTA-Gd), were explored as contrast agents for molecular imaging of ER. In solution, both probes exhibited a micromolar ER binding affinity, fast water exchange rate (∼107 s−1), and water proton-relaxivity of 4.7–6.8 mM−1 s−1. In human breast cancer cells, both probes acted as estrogen agonists and enhanced the water protons T1 relaxation rate and relaxivity in ER-positive as compared to ER-negative cells, with EPTA-Gd showing a higher ER-specific relaxivity than TPTA-Gd. In studies of breast cancer tumors in vivo, EPTA-Gd induced the highest enhancement in ER-positive tumors as compared to ER-negative tumors and muscle tissue, enabling in vivo detection of ER. TPTA-Gd demonstrated the highest enhancement in muscle tissue indicating nonspecific interaction of this agent with muscle components. The extracellular contrast agents, PTA-Gd and GdDTPA, showed no difference in the perfusion capacity of ER-positive and -negative tumors confirming the specific interaction of EPTA-Gd with ER. These findings lay a basis for the molecular imaging of the ER using EPTA-Gd as a template for further developments. Magn Reson Med, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.