The output potential of proliferating populations in either the developing or the adult nervous system is critically dependent on the length of the cell cycle (T(c)) and the size of the proliferating population. We developed a new approach for analyzing the cell cycle, the 'Saturate and Survive Method' (SSM), that also reveals the dynamic behaviors in the proliferative population and estimates of the size of the proliferating population. We used this method to analyze the proliferating population of the adult dentate gyrus in 60 day old mice of two inbred strains, C57BL/6J and BALB/cByJ. The results show that the number of cells labeled by exposure to BUdR changes dramatically with time as a function of the number of proliferating cells in the population, the length of the S-phase, cell division, the length of the cell cycle, dilution of the S-phase label, and cell death. The major difference between C57BL/6J and BALB/cByJ mice is the size of the proliferating population, which differs by a factor of two; the lengths of the cell cycle and the S-phase and the probability that a newly produced cell will die within the first 10 days do not differ in these two strains. This indicates that genetic regulation of the size of the proliferating population is independent of the genetic regulation of cell death among those newly produced cells. The dynamic changes in the number of labeled cells as revealed by the SSM protocol also indicate that neither single nor repeated daily injections of BUdR accurately measure 'proliferation.'