Intracellular oxidation of dihydrorhodamine 123 (DHR) to the fluorescent compound rhodamine 123 (Rho123) was used to detect the production of oxygen metabolites in activated neutrophils. Total leukocyte preparations can be used in this assay, which is a great advantage when priming of the respiratory burst is studied. We have defined the conditions that should be taken into account when priming is studied with this assay. We found that neither the extent nor the kinetics of DHR oxidation match those of NADPH oxidase activity. In addition, DHR oxidation is influenced by the absolute and relative number of neutrophils in the leukocyte suspension, by the DHR concentration and by myeloperoxidase availability. The results presented in this study emphasize the need for carefully designed experiments when DHR is used to study the respiratory burst in neutrophils.