Brain inflammation holds promise as a therapeutic target in subacute stages of ischemic stroke. At the cellular level, postischemic inflammation is dominated by cells of the innate immune system with resident microglia/brain macrophages and blood-derived monocytes/macrophages being the most important cell types involved. Iron oxide nanoparticles such as ultrasmall superparamagnetic iron oxide (USPIO) are novel cell-specific contrast agents for MRI. After intravenous injection USPIO is taken up by circulating phagocytic cells. USPIO-laden macrophages cause typical signal changes in MRI of infarcted brain parenchyma, which has been demonstrated in studies of both experimental ischemia and human stroke. USPIO-enhanced MRI may therefore represent an important tool to address the role of macrophages for ischemic lesion development both in basic science and clinical studies.