Real-time quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) is the method of choice for rapid and reproducible measurements of cytokine or growth factor expression in small samples. Fluorescence detection methods for monitoring real-time PCR include fluorogenic probes labelled with reporter and quencher dyes, such as Taqman probes or Molecular Beacons and the dsDNA-binding dye SYBR Green I. Fluorogenic (Taqman) probes for a range of human and rat cytokines and growth factors were tested for sensitivity and compared with an assay for SYBR Green I quantification using real-time fluorescence monitoring (PE Applied Biosystems Model 7700 sequence detector). SYBR Green I detection involved analysis of the melting temperature of the PCR product and measurement of fluorescence at the optimum temperature. Fluorogenic probes provided sensitive and reproducible detection of targets that ranged from low (<10 copies/reaction) to high (>107 copies/ reaction) expression. SYBR Green I gave reproducible quantification when the target gene was expressed at moderate to high levels (> or =1000 copies/reaction), but did not give consistently reproducible quantification when the target gene was expressed at low levels. Although optimization of melting temperature improved the specificity of SYBR Green I detection, in our hands it did not equal the reproducible sensitivity and specificity of fluorogenic probes. The latter method is the first choice for measurement of low-level gene expression, although SYBR Green I is a simple and reproducible means to quantify genes that are expressed at moderate to high levels.