Abstract Interleukin 2 (IL-2) activity is tested in conditioned media by assessing its ability to support proliferation of selected IL-2 dependent T cell lines, conventionally measured by [ 3H]thymidine incorporation. Here, we compare this [ 3H]thymidine uptake test for measuring IL-2 activity with a rapid and sensitive colorimetric method which is based on the ability of viable cells to cleave 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyl tetrazolium bromide (MTT). The sensitivity of the colorimetric method was dependent on the indicator cell line used, being greatest with the cytotoxic T cell line 16 (CTLL-16). The colorimetric method is at least as sensitive as [ 3H]thymidine uptake tests, does not rely on radioactivity, and is ideally suited to screen large numbers of individual samples for IL-2 activity. The latter point was demonstrated by calculating IL-2-producing helper T cell frequencies in heterogeneous murine lymphocyte populations: in this assay, splenic T cells were clonally expanded under limiting dilution conditions and supernatants conditioned by these in vitro growing T cell clones were tested for IL-2 activity with the colorimetric method. This allowed us to obtain reliable estimates of the frequency of progenitor cells of IL-2-producing T cell clones in various populations.