We used electrorotation measurements to investigate alterations in the plasma membranes of DS19 murine erythroleukaemia cells that accompanied erythropoietic differentiation induced by hexamethylene bisacetamide (HMBA). Following 3 days of HMBA treatment, the mean cell membrane specific capacitance determined from electrorotation spectra of individual, viable cells at physiological tonicity (300 mosmol/kg) fell from 1.74 to 1.53 microF/cm2, in agreement with trends observed earlier by dielectrophoretic measurements on bulk cell populations. Scanning and transmission electron microscopy revealed that the relatively high values found for cell membrane capacitance (> 1 microF/cm2) reflected the large area of plasma membrane associated with complex surface morphology including numerous microvilli. Furthermore, it demonstrated that the fall in membrane capacitance during HMBA treatment correlated with a reduction in the density of these complex surface features. Differences in the mechanical characteristics of the cell membranes of untreated and treated cells were then examined by exposing cells to osmotic stress. The intricacy of membrane morphology intensified with increasing osmolality of the suspending medium and this was reflected in higher specific capacitance values. When the osmolality was increased from 210 to 450 mosmol/kg, the mean membrane capacitance of untreated DS19 cells changed from 1.58 to 2.05 microF/cm2 while that for HMBA-treated cells changed from 1.47 to 1.72 microF/cm2, a significantly smaller response. This demonstrated that cells exposed to 72 h of differentiation treatment had an enhanced mechanical resilience as compared with their untreated counterparts, evidencing the early stages of the development of the membrane skeleton which becomes fully developed in mature erythrocytes. Our findings demonstrate the value of electrorotation measurements as a method for the non-invasive characterisation of viable leukaemic cells and their responses to stimuli and show that the membrane capacitance values so derived reflect membrane morphology.