Functionalization of nanomaterials for precise biomedical function is an emerging trend in nanotechnology. Carbon nanotubes are attractive as multifunctional carrier systems because payload can be encapsulated in internal space whilst outer surfaces can be chemically modified. Yet, despite potential as drug delivery systems and radiotracers, such filled-and-functionalized carbon nanotubes have not been previously investigated in vivo. Here we report covalent functionalization of radionuclide-filled single-walled carbon nanotubes and their use as radioprobes. Metal halides, including Na 125 I, were sealed inside single-walled carbon nanotubes to create high-density radioemitting crystals and then surfaces of these filled-sealed nanotubes were covalently modified with biantennary carbohydrates, improving dispersibility and biocompatibility. Intravenous administration of Na 125 I-filled glyco-single-walled carbon nanotubes in mice was tracked in vivo using single-photon emission computed tomography. Specific tissue accumulation (here lung) coupled with high in vivo stability prevented leakage of radionuclide to high-affinity organs (thyroid/stomach) or excretion, and resulted in ultrasensitive imaging and delivery of unprecedented radiodose density. Nanoencapsulation of iodide within single-walled carbon nanotubes enabled its biodistribution to be completely redirected from tissue with innate affinity (thyroid) to lung. Surface functionalization of 125 I-filled single-walled carbon nanotubes offers versatility towards modulation of biodistribution of these radioemitting crystals in a manner determined by the capsule that delivers them. We envisage that organ-specific therapeutics and diagnostics can be developed on the basis of the nanocapsule model described here. © 2010 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.