An automated fluorometric microculture cytotoxicity assay (FMCA) based on the measurement of fluorescence generated from cellular hydrolysis of fluorescein diacetate (FDA) to fluorescein was employed for chemotherapeutic-drug-sensitivity testing of tumor-cell suspensions from patients with leukemia. Fluorescence was linearly related to cell number, and reproducible measurements of drug sensitivity could be performed using fresh or cryopreserved leukemia cells. A marked heterogeneity with respect to chemotherapeutic drug sensitivity was observed for a panel of cytotoxic drugs tested in 43 samples from 35 patients with treated or untreated acute and chronic leukemia. For samples obtained from patients with chronic lymphocytic and acute myelocytic leukemia, sensitivity profiles for standard drugs corresponded to known clinical activity and the assay detected primary and acquired drug resistance. Individual in vitro/in vivo correlations indicated high specificity with respect to the identification of drug resistance. The results suggest that the FMCA may be a simple and rapid method for in vivo-representative determinations of chemotherapeutic drug resistance in tumor cells obtained from patients with leukemia.