The appearance of cytomegalovirus (CMV) antigen positive blood leucocytes (CMV antigenaemia) was investigated in 52 renal transplant recipients during the first three months after transplantation. Using a mixture of three monoclonal antibodies, CMV (immediate early) antigens were detected in cytocentrifuged blood leucocytes within 3-5 h after sampling. The results were related to virus isolation from buffy coats (CMV viraemia), serology with a sensitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), and clinical symptoms of CMV disease. The antigen test was positive in all 14 patients with CMV viraemia, in 25 out of 27 of patients with serological evidence of primary or secondary CMV infection, and in 2 out of 25 patients without active infection. In patients with a clinical CMV syndrome the presence of CMV antigen (CMV-Ag) positive blood cells correspond with the period of signs and symptoms. CMV antigens were not detected in 23 out of 25 patients without active infection, nor in healthy controls and patients with other herpesvirus infections. CMV-Ag positive blood cells appeared, on average, nine days before serological signs of active infection. This method provides a rapid and sensitive approach to CMV detection, enabling early clinical diagnosis and subsequent tapering of immunosuppression or commencement of antiviral therapy.