Rare-earth doped oxides as bulk materials are well known for their numerous applications in light emitting devices. Emission properties of nanoparticles, in association with their small size, open the way to new applications such as the elaboration of transparent luminescent devices or new biological labels. The key issue for such applications is the control of the surface state of the particles in order to preserve their dispersion state, to guarantee a strong emission and/or ensure strong interactions with specific target sites. Our work in this field mainly concerns yttrium vanadate particles (YVO4:Ln with Ln=Eu, Dy and Yb/Er) that are obtained as aqueous suspensions through a simple reaction of coprecipitation . As compared to the bulk material, these particles (10-40 nm in diameter) exhibit the characteristic emission from the lanthanide dopant but with a lower efficiency (quantum yield of 15% and emission lifetime of 0.7 ms). The first part of our work is devoted to the improvement of the emission properties of particles. Our results show that the emission process is altered either by surface hydroxyl groups or by the poor cristallinity of the particles. We show that large improvement can be obtained following an original process which allows recovering the particles as colloidal dispersions after their thermal treatment at 1000°C. In the case of Eu3+ doped particles, quantum yield and emission lifetime were increased up to 40% and 0.8 ms respectively without notable increase of particle size. Moreover, the emission spectrum, either from colloidal suspensions or from single particles fits almost perfectly to the one from the bulk material. The second part of our work is devoted to the surface derivatization of the particles for applications as biological probes . We chose a general scheme involving the coating of the nanoparticles with a thin layer of amino-silane. This process was chosen in order to allow further versatile grafting reactions trough the surface amino groups. This strategy will be detailed in the case of the coupling between our particles and a protein through the use of a homo-bifunctional cross-linker. The quantification of the number of attached proteins was achieved using dual-color microscopy and fluorescently-tagged proteins, by observing the step-like photobleaching of the organic fluorescent tag. The observation of labelled toxins interacting with living cells shows the high potentiality of rare-earth-doped oxide particles as new biological probes.