Chronic granulomatous disease (CGD) is a rare recessive disorder caused by defects in the NADPH oxidase enzyme complex of phagocytes (neutrophils, eosinophils and monocytes). CGD phagocytes fail to produce superoxide and other reactive oxygen species following cell activation (Malech, 1993). The products of oxidase activation can be measured in individual cells by flow cytometry using specific fluorescent probes that increase fluorescence upon oxidation (Trinkle et al., 1987). This approach can be used to confirm a diagnosis of CGD, and to detect the normal/abnormal phagocyte mixture that characterizes the X-linked CGD carrier state. Three fluorescent probes have been described as useful for this purpose: 2'7'-dichlorofluorescin diacetate (DCF) (Bass et al., 1983), 5,6-carboxy-2'7'-dichlorofluorescein diacetate, bis(acetoxymethyl) ester (C-DCF) (Hockenbery et al., 1993) and dihydrorhodamine 123 (DHR) (Rothe et al., 1988; Kinsey et al., 1987). A direct comparison between these three probes has not been reported. In this study we performed a direct comparison between these three probes, evaluating their ability in flow cytometric analysis to maximize fluorescent separation between activated CGD patient and normal granulocytes. Using a whole blood technique with phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) as an activator, it was found that DHR loaded normal granulocytes had a fluorescence intensity which, upon activation, was 48-fold higher than that of C-DCF loaded granulocytes and seven-fold higher than DCF loaded granulocytes (P < 0.001). Use of sodium azide to decrease the catabolism of H2O2 enhanced the fluorescence of DCF by 140%, C-DCF by 45% and DHR by 25%, suggesting that DCF is primarily sensitive to H2O2. DCF and DHR were then evaluated for sensitivity in the detection of small percentages of normal cells in a CGD/normal granulocyte mixture. Normal sub-populations as small as 0.1% could clearly be distinguished using DHR, while DCF was insensitive at this level. Based on these findings, we used DHR in an effort to detect normal granulocytes in a CGD patient following therapeutic granulocyte transfusion. We were able to detect normal granulocytes in the circulation for up to 18 h after transfusion. With these data we show that DHR is the most sensitive flow cytometric indicator for the detection of oxygen reactive species in activated granulocytes and is the best probe for evaluating CGD patients and carriers. In addition, our data suggest that DHR is a useful tool for monitoring circulating normal granulocytes in CGD patients following transfusion, and potentially will be a sensitive probe for assessing the success of such future technologies as gene therapy for CGD.