We developed a homogeneous format reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction assay for quantitating hepatitis C virus (HCV) RNA based on the TaqMan principle, in which signal is generated by cleaving a target-specific probe during amplification. The test uses two probes, one specific for HCV and one specific for an internal control, containing fluorophores with different emission spectra. Titers are calculated in international units (IU)/ml by comparing the HCV signal generated by test samples to that generated by a set of external standards. Endpoint titration experiments demonstrated that samples containing 28 IU/ml give positive results 95% of the time. Based on these data, the limit of detection was set conservatively at 40 IU/ml. All HCV genotypes were amplified with equal efficiency and accurately quantitated: when equal quantities of RNA were tested, each genotype produced virtually identical fluorescent signals. The test exhibited a linear range extending from 64 to 4,180,000 IU/ml and excellent reproducibility, with coefficients of variation ranging from 21.6 to 30.4%, which implies that titers that differ by a factor of twofold (0.3 log10) are statistically significant (P = 0.005). The test did not react with other organisms likely to co-infect patients with hepatitis C and exhibited a specificity of 99% when evaluated on a set of samples from HCV seronegative blood donors. In interferon-treated patients, the patterns of viral load changes revealed by the TaqMan HCV quantitative test distinguished responders from nonresponders and responder-relapsers. These data indicate that the TaqMan quantitative HCV test provides an attractive alternative for measuring HCV viral load and should prove useful for prognosis and for monitoring the efficacy of antiviral treatments.