The present review analyzes various approaches for the design and synthesis of different nanoparticles for imaging and therapy. Nanoparticles for computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) and optical imaging are discussed. The influence of nanoparticle size, shape, surface charge, composition, surface functionalization, active targeting and other factors on imaging and therapeutic efficacy is analyzed. Cyto- and genotoxicity of nanoparticles are also discussed. Special attention in the review is paid to the imaging of apoptotic tissues and cells in different diseases.