Relative fluorescence intensity measurements from a flow cytometer were used to evaluate expression of CD38 and HLA-DR antigens. These molecules are associated with cellular activation and are present at increased levels on the CD8+ lymphocytes of HIV-infected subjects. In the current study, the prognostic value of mean fluorescence intensity measurements of CD38 and HLA-DR on CD8+ cells was compared to results from our previous study in which we reported prognostic value for an elevated percentage of CD8+ cells that were positive for expression of the CD38 antigen (Giorgi et al.: JAIDS 6:904-912, 1993). Using the proportional hazards model, elevated mean fluorescence intensity of CD38 expression on CD8+ cells had prognostic value for development of AIDS that was almost identical to the prognostic value of the percentage of CD8+ cells that were positive for expression of CD38. This prognostic value was in addition to that provided by the patient's CD4+ cell measurement. To our knowledge, this is the first report that a measurement of fluorescence intensity can be used as a prognostic marker in an immunodeficiency disease. Efforts are needed to establish methods that will allow widespread application of this observation in the clinical management of HIV-infected subjects.