A new radial enzyme diffusion (RED) method for the measurement of DNase activity in serum and urine is described. The sensitivity of the assay is in the range of 15.6-500 ng/ml. The assay is based on the hydrolysis of double-stranded (ds) DNA (or nucleosomes) in agarose. The specificity of the reaction for DNase I was established by showing that either EDTA in the reaction buffer or G-actin abolished DNase activity. Being a functional assay, RED has advantages over radioimmunoassay (RIA) or ELISA, since antigenic assays may also measure complexes of DNase with actin. This method was used to measure DNase activity in the sera and urine of lupus-prone mice (NZB/NZW F1 hybrids, aged 4-6 weeks). Serum DNase activity in these mice was significantly lower (mean 9 ng/ml) than in control, normal mice of the same age and sex (mean 37 ng/ml). Concentration of DNase in the urine of 4-6-week-old female NZB/NZW F1 hybrids (24 ng/ml) was significantly lower then in control mice (521 ng/ml). The RED method was used to measure the concentration of actin as the DNase inhibitor in serum. G-actin in the presence of ATP binds DNase and inhibits its nucleolytic activity. Since ATP is necessary for the actin inhibition of DNase I, this shows that there is actin as well as DNase I in the serum. Actin is not only ATP-dependent, but also heat-labile. Heating the sera for 10 min at 50 degrees C increases DNase activity. This is an alternative method for measuring the concentration of actin in the serum. An almost identical estimate of actin concentration in sera of normal mice was found from the difference of DNase activity in the presence or absence of ATP (mean actin concentration = 21 ng/ml) or from the difference of DNase activity in heated and non-heated serum (mean actin concentration 18 ng/ml). We were not able to demonstrate DNase inhibitors in the urine of either control or NZB/W F1 hybrid mice.