This study was undertaken to evaluate the colorimetric MTT [3-(4,5-dimethyl-2-thiazolyl)-2,5-diphenyl-2H tetrazolium bromide] assay as a means of testing the sensitivity of gliomas to chemotherapeutic agents in vitro. Eight human glioma established cell lines were plated in 96-well tissue culture plates and incubated for 4 days with 10 different anti-cancer agents; 5 different concentrations of each drug were tested. The MTT dye was then added to the wells, and the resulting formazan precipitate was solubilized with dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO). The spectrophotometric absorbance (measured at 570 nm) of control and experimental wells was used to calculate the cytotoxicity index (CI). Values with a CI greater than 50% growth inhibition indicated cytotoxic efficacy (sensitivity to the chemotherapeutic drug). Six of the seven (85.7%) glioma cell lines were highly sensitive at varying concentrations to mitomycin C, cisplatin, and doxorubicin. Four of the seven (57.1%) cell lines demonstrated intermediate sensitivity to mitoxantrone and vinblastine. Five of the seven (71.4%) cell lines exhibited resistance to etoposide, bleomycin, cosmegen, and BCNU. One of the cell lines tested, U-138MG, failed to produce the MTT formazan precipitate, so that the sensitivity of this cell line to the panel chemotherapeutic drugs could not be determined. The variability of the results indicates the need for an in vitro screening method to evaluate the effectiveness of clinical and experimental chemotherapeutic agents. The MTT assay provides a rapid method of screening antineoplastic agents against gliomas for cytotoxicity.