The surface of mammalian cells faces an oxidizing environment that has the potential to damage proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates to which it is exposed. In contrast, the cytoplasm is reducing and its redox state is tightly regulated. Trans-plasma membrane oxidoreductases that shift electrons from cytosolic NADH to external electron acceptors such as oxygen are widely involved in cellular redox control. They reduce oxygen to water and may generate reactive oxygen species such as superoxide and hydrogen peroxide. In addition, external NAD(P)H-oxidases have been demonstrated on intact cells and as eluted proteins, but the relationship between trans-plasma membrane NADH-oxidoreductases and cell-surface NAD(P)H-oxidases is not known. To investigate further the relationship between plasma membrane NAD(P)H-oxidoreductases, and to gain insight into the physiological functions of these redox active membrane proteins, we have adapted a simple colorimetric assay for measuring the trans-plasma membrane NADH-oxidoreductase activity of viable cells to measure NAD(P)H-oxidase at the cell surface in real time. Using the cell-impermeable tetrazolium salt WST-1 in the presence of NADH or NADPH, but in the absence of an intermediate electron acceptor, we show that cell-surface NAD(P)H-oxidase is widely expressed on mammalian cells, being more abundant on rapidly proliferating cells than on resting neutrophils and spleen cells. The ratio of cofactor dependence of NAD(P)H-oxidase (NADH:NADPH) varied widely between different cells (0.7-5.2), suggesting a family of cell surface oxidases or that the activity of these enzymes may be modulated in various ways. Comparison of NAD(P)H-oxidase on the surface of viable cells with trans-membrane NADH-oxidoreductase, measured with WST-1 in the presence of 1-methoxy PMS, showed that cell-surface NAD(P)H-oxidase was differentially inhibited by the cell-impermeable thiol-blocking agent pCMBS, but was unaffected or stimulated by other thiol blocking agents. Capsaicin, which inhibits trans-plasma membrane NADH-oxidoreductase activity, stimulated surface NAD(P)H-oxidase. Metabolic inhibitors had little effect on surface NAD(P)H-oxidase activity but inhibited trans-plasma membrane activity. These results do not support the view the surface NAD(P)H-oxidase is a terminal oxidase for trans-plasma membrane NADH-oxidoreductase.