We studied the effects of deoxyribonu-cleases on the detection of 5-bromo-2-deoxyuridine (BrdUrd) by anti-BrdUrd monoclonal antibodies (mAbs). After DNase I treatment, BrdUrd was detected in cells fixed on slides with the anti-BrdUrd mAbs, B44 and BMC9318. The level of detection related to the degree of DNA digestion. DNA digestion of 25–75% resulted in levels of staining comparable to control preparations in which DNA was denatured by heating with formamide. Staining with the mAbs of DNase I-treated cells was abolished with S1 nuclease, a single-stranded DNA-specific nuclease. When exonuclease III was used after DNase I treatment, the staining intensity of cells fixed on slides increased, and BrdUrd could be detected in suspended cells by flow cytometry. Since this enzymatic method leading to the detection of BrdUrd does not involve cell loss, or destruction of either cellular morphology or epitope reactivity, as occurs with traditional DNA denaturation procedures, it is useful for kinetic studies of phenotypically mixed populations. Furthermore, staining with anti-BrdUrd mAb of cells treated with exonuclease III offers a simple approach to quantitation of apoptotic cells, in which an endogenous endonuclease is activated. © 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.