A microculture assay for murine granulocyte-macrophage colony- stimulating factor (GM-CSF) has been developed using fetal liver GM colony-forming cells (CFC) isolated by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. These GM-CFC are free of mature hemopoietic cells, such as granulocytes and macrophages, which may interfere with direct assays for GM-CSF. The assay procedure allows the quantitation of GM-CSF within 48 hr by measuring the number of cells produced from 50 GM-CFC in microcultures (15 microliter). The assay is particularly simple to set up and score and yet, because of the reduced volumes, this assay is still capable of detecting 0.2 pg (i.e., 0.2 U) of GM-CSF within 48 hr, i.e., 100 times less GM-CSF than the conventional soft agar assay. By allowing the microcultures to develop for 7 days, the extra proliferation allows a further tenfold increase in the sensitivity of CSF detection. The time and cost of setting up hundreds of GM-CSF assays for fractions from chromatographic columns, e.g., reverse phase high performance liquid chromatography, is reduced by at least five- fold. Enough GM-CFC can be isolated and stored frozen in one afternoon to provide sufficient cells for the daily assay of 200 samples of GM- CSF for several months. Microassay results for several sources of GM- CSF at different stages of purification are compared to the results obtained from the soft agar assay.