Neural stem cells (NSCs) exhibit features that make them suitable candidates for stem cell replacement therapy and spinal cord reconstruction. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) offers the potential to track cells in vivo using innovative approaches to cell labeling and image acquisition. In this study, experiments were carried out to optimize the loading condition of magnetic CoPt hollow nanoparticles (CoPt NPs) into neural stem cells and to define appropriate MRI parameters. Both cell viability and multipotency analysis showed that CoPt NPs at a concentration of 16 mu g ml(-1) reduced T(2) relaxation times in labeled rat NSCs, producing greater contrast on spin echo acquisitions at 4.7 T, yet did not affect cell viability and in vitro differentiation potential compared to controls. After optimizing nanoparticle loading concentrations and labeled cell numbers for MRI detection, CoPt-loaded NSCs were transplanted into organotypic spinal cord slices. The results showed that MRI could efficiently detect low numbers of CoPt-labeled NSCs with the enhanced image contrast. Our study demonstrated that MRI of grafted NSCs labeled with CoPt NPs is a useful tool to evaluate organotypic spinal cord slice models and has potential applications in other biological systems.