A rapid, sensitive and automated assay procedure was developed for the in vitro evaluation of anti-HIV agents. An HTLV-I transformed T4-cell line, MT-4, which was previously shown by Koyanagi et al. (1985) to be highly susceptible to, and permissive for, HIV infection, served as the target cell line. Inhibition of the HIV-induced cytopathic effect was used as the end point. The viability of both HIV- and mock-infected cells was assessed spectrophotometrically via the in situ reduction of 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide (MTT). The procedure was optimized as to make optimal use of multichannel pipettes, microprocessor-controlled dispensing and optical density reading. The absorbance ratio of the mock-infected control to the HIV-infected samples was about 20. This allowed an accurate determination of the 50% effective doses, as demonstrated for 3'-azido-2',3'-dideoxythymidine (AZT), 2',3'-dideoxycytidine (ddCyd), dextran sulfate and heparin. The technique significantly reduced labor time as compared to the trypan blue exclusion method, and permits the evaluation of large numbers of compounds for their anti-HIV activity.