During the last decade, the development of nuclear spin polarization enhanced (hyperpolarized) molecular probes has opened up new opportunities for studying the inner workings of living cells in real time. The hyperpolarized probes are produced ex situ
, introduced into biological systems and detected with high sensitivity and contrast against background signals using high resolution NMR spectroscopy. A variety of natural, derivatized and designed hyperpolarized probes has emerged for diverse biological studies including assays of intracellular reaction progression, pathway kinetics, probe uptake and export, pH, redox state, reactive oxygen species, ion concentrations, drug efficacy or oncogenic signaling. These probes are readily used directly under natural conditions in biofluids and are often directly developed and optimized for cellular assays, thus leaving little doubt about their specificity and utility under biologically relevant conditions. Hyperpolarized molecular probes for biological NMR spectroscopy enable the unbiased detection of complex processes by virtue of the high spectral resolution, structural specificity and quantifiability of NMR signals. Here, we provide a survey of strategies used for the selection, design and use of hyperpolarized NMR probes in biological assays, and describe current limitations and developments.