We present a rapid flow cytometric and non-radioactive functional assay developed for the determination of the cytotoxic activity of T lymphocytes, natural killer cells, and lymphokine-activated killer cells. In contrast to indirect evaluation of cytotoxicity using radioactive assays, this assay is based on the quantitative and qualitative flow cytometric analysis of cell damage on a single cell level. Target cells are stained with PKH-26, a lipophilic dye that stably integrates into the cell membrane, without disturbing its surface marker expression. It, thus, permits the distinction between target and effector cells. After short term in vitro incubation (1.5-3h), AnnexinV-FITC (ann-FITC) staining allows to discriminate between apoptotic and non-apoptotic target cells. Data analysis is performed first by gating on PKH-26 positive target cells, followed by the analysis of the ann-FITC positive subpopulation. The percentage of cytotoxicity in the PKH-26 gated cell population is calculated by subtracting unspecific ann-FITC positive target cells, measured in appropriate controls without effector cells. Using in vitro generated antigen-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes, we demonstrate that this flow cytometric assay is sensitive, correlates well with the standard 51Cr release assay, and is easy to handle.