A new method for assaying the activity of des-gamma-carboxyprothrombin (DCP), using staphylocoagulase on undiluted adsorbed plasma, is described. The thrombin-coagulase formed is measured on a chromogenic substrate, and the results are expressed in milliunits per milliliter of increment of the optical density following the release of p-nitroaniline. Levels of DCP in 96 normal subjects were under 10 mU/ml (mean, 3.58 mU/ml). Of 70 nonhepatectomized patients with hepatocellular carcinomas, 74% had increased DCP levels of between 20 and 420 mU/ml (most of the values were between 20 and 100 mU/ml). Des-carboxyprothrombin and alpha-fetoprotein measurements gave complementary information, one marker or the other being positive in 87% of hepatocellular carcinoma. Fourteen of 15 patients with metastatic carcinoma of the liver had normal DCP levels, as did 95 patients with liver cirrhosis and 13 patients with chronic hepatitis. When the level of "total factor II" is below 40%, it is recommended that a second determination of DCP be performed 5 days after the injection of vitamin K, to exclude any vitamin K deficiency (in the case of hepatocellular carcinoma the DCP level will remain elevated). The DCP assay appears more sensitive and more specific than the alpha-fetoprotein assay for the diagnosis of hepatocellular carcinoma; furthermore, both tests are complementary.