A method was developed for gentle fixation of mammalian cells and permeabilization of their membranes. The method is useful for staining of intracellular antigens or quantification of DNA content simultaneously with cell surface staining. Cells are treated for 1 h at 4 degrees C with 0.25% buffered paraformaldehyde then for 15 min at 37 degrees C with 0.2% Tween 20 detergent in PBS. The procedure permits excellent staining of intracellular proteins, very low coefficients of variation (CV) on the G0G1-peak of DNA distributions, and preservation of the integrity of cell surface antigens. The low vs. 90 degrees angle light scatter profile of cell clusters is maintained thereby allowing discrimination of different cell populations including human peripheral blood lymphocytes and monocytes for gating and analytic purposes. The method was successfully used on a variety of other cell types, including human thymocytes, murine thymocytes and spleen cells, and several leukemic cell lines. Dual-color surface antigen staining combined with DNA staining with 7-amino-actinomycin D (7-AAD) on peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) cultured with tetanus toxoid allowed the determination of the cell subset that was preferentially stimulated. Staining for internal antigens was done on CCRF-CEM for expression of CD3 epsilon and on NALM-6 for expression of mu. The technique we developed gave bright and specific staining of internal antigens in the examples presented here. It is particularly suited for correlations of internal antigen staining with DNA staining and/or surface immunofluorescence.