1,4-Diacetoxy-2,3-dicyanobenzene (ADB) has been increasingly used for measurement of intracellular pH by flow cytometry. ADB rapidly enters cells and is cleaved to the fluorescent pH indicator 2,3-dicyano-hydroquinone (DCH). We have analyzed several potential problems that can affect its usefulness as a pH indicator. Hydrolysis of ADB in aqueous solutions reveals the temporary presence of a fluorescent species blue-shifted from DCH at the same pH. The presence of this species with DCH can lead to erroneous pH measurements. Stable pH measurements with ADB depend on the incubation conditions and esterase activity. Heated cells required 20 min for stable measurements, whereas control cells required 5 to 10 min. The reproducibility of pH measurements was excellent, with a resolution of less than or equal to 0.05 pH units in the range of 6.4 to 8.0. Absolute calibration curves of intracellular pH using the ionophore nigericin depended on matching the intracellular K+ concentration with the buffer, but relative measurements of intracellular pH were insensitive to K+. ADB was nontoxic to Chinese hamster ovary cells at up to 20 micrograms/ml. However, when cells loaded with dye were passed through a UV laser beam, concentrations of dye greater than 5 micrograms/ml were highly toxic. Viable cells could be sorted on the basis of intracellular pH if ADB were used at low concentrations.