Dendritic cells (DC) from distinct DC subsets are essential contributors to normal human immune responses. Despite this, reliable assays that enable DC to be counted precisely have been slow to evolve. We have now developed a new single-platform flow cytometric assay based on TruCOUNT beads and the whole blood "Lyse/No-Wash" protocol that allows precise counting of the CD14(-) blood DC subsets: CD11c(+)CD16(-) DC, CD11c(+)CD16(+) DC, CD123(hi) DC, CD1c(+) DC and BDCA-3(+) DC. This assay requires 50 microl of whole blood; does not rely on a hematology blood analyser for the absolute DC counts; allows DC counting in EDTA samples 24 h after collection; and is suitable for cord blood and peripheral blood. The data is highly reproducible with intra-assay and inter-assay coefficients of variation less than 3% and 11%, respectively. This assay does not produce the DC-T lymphocyte conjugates that result in DC counting abnormalities in conventional gradient-density separation procedures. Using the TruCOUNT assay, we established that absolute blood DC counts reduce with age in healthy individuals. In preliminary studies, we found a significantly lower absolute blood CD11c(+)CD16(+) DC count in stage III/IV versus stage I/II breast carcinoma patients and a lower absolute blood CD123(hi) DC count in multiple myeloma patients, compared to age-matched controls. These data indicate that scientific progress in DC counting technology will lead to the global standardization of DC counting and allow clinically meaningful data to be obtained.