Technetium-99m hexamethylpropylene amine oxime (99mTc-HMPAO) labelling of white blood cells, routinely used for the detection of infection, results in the incorporation of radioactivity by polymorphonuclear leucocytes and also lymphocytes and can induce cell lesions in the latter case. The aim of this study was therefore to acquire data on the morphological and functional status of labelled lymphocytes present in the 99mTc-HMPAO leucocyte mixture and to determine the cellular consequences of labelling. The mean radioactivity associated with lymphocytes was 325 +/- 10.8 kBq/10(6) lymphocytes under standard labelling conditions. Microautoradiographic studies showed that labelling was heterogeneous (4% intensely labelled cells), which prevented calculation of the mean absorbed dose. The frequency of chromosomal aberrations (dicentrics and rings) in the labelled lymphocytes for 380 kBq/10(6) cells was 1.08 +/- 0.09 but no abnormality was observed in the unlabelled control lymphocytes. The plating efficiency of labelled lymphocytes was reduced, as compared with that for control cells, but some lymphocytes were still able to form clones and were still "alive" by radiobiological definition. It is therefore suggested that lymphocytes should be removed from 99mTc-HMPAO cell preparations before administration to patients.