Techniques for assessing collagen production by cells in culture are usually based on evaluation of uptake of radiolabeled proline into collagen. Although simple in theory, this approach is often flawed because of uncertainties concerning the specific activity of labeled proline in the precursor pool for collagen synthesis. An alternative approach is to assess collagen production directly by measuring hydroxyproline in proteins secreted by cultured cells, although this has been difficult, due to the insensitivity of the methods available. Here we apply high-pressure liquid chromatography using reverse-phase elution of 7-chloro-4-nitrobenzo-2-oxa-1,3-diazole derivatives of hydroxyproline to measure collagen production by fibroblasts. The method is easy to perform and allows quantitation of hydroxyproline down to 5 pmol, making it applicable to fibroblasts in 12-well culture plates. Collagen production was shown to be constant over a period of 24 h, with a mean rate of 391 +/- 18 (SE n = 14) ng collagen/10(6) cells/h. Similar values were obtained using thin-layer chromatography and an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay for type I collagen, but these techniques were judged to be less convenient and required additional assumptions compared with the technique described here in full.