Shortly after the introduction of 1H MRI, fluorinated molecules were tested as MR-detectable tracers or contrast agents. Many fluorinated compounds, which are nontoxic and chemically inert, are now being used in a broad range of biomedical applications, including anesthetics, chemotherapeutic agents, and molecules with high oxygen solubility for respiration and blood substitution. These compounds can be monitored by fluorine (19F) MRI and/or MRS, providing a noninvasive means to interrogate associated functions in biological systems. As a result of the lack of endogenous fluorine in living organisms, 19F MRI of ‘hotspots’ of targeted fluorinated contrast agents has recently opened up new research avenues in molecular and cellular imaging. This includes the specific targeting and imaging of cellular surface epitopes, as well as MRI cell tracking of endogenous macrophages, injected immune cells and stem cell transplants. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.