We describe a fluorometric assay for heme synthetase, the enzyme that is genetically deficient in erythropoietic protoporphyria. The method, which can readily detect activity in 1 microliter of packed human lymphocytes, is based on the formation of zinc protoheme from protoporphyrin IX. That zinc chelatase and ferrochelatase activities reside in the same enzyme was shown by the competitive action of ferrous ions and the inhibitory effects of N-methyl protoporphyrin (a specific inhibitor of heme synthetase) on zinc chelatase. The Km for zinc was 11 micrograms and that for protoporphyrin IX was 6 microM. The Ki fro ferrous ions was 14 microM. Zinc chelatase was reduced to 15.3% of the mean control activity in lymphocytes obtained from patients with protoporphyria, thus confirming the defect of heme biosynthesis in this disorder. The assay should prove to be useful for determining heme synthetase in tissues with low specific activity and to investigate further the enzymatic defect in protoporphyria.