Paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria (PNH) is an acquired disorder. Erythrocytes isolated from PNH patients show increased sensitivity to complement and decreased acetylcholinesterase (AChE) activity. In this study, indirect immunofluorescence analysis of a monoclonal antibody specific for a surface epitope of human erythrocyte AChE is used to quantitate the content of this enzyme at the single-cell level. Flow- cytofluorimetric analysis of erythrocytes from normal donors indicates that all erythrocytes contain detectable levels of the surface epitope with a strong correlation between cell size and enzyme content. In contrast, erythrocytes from PNH patients show two distinct populations of erythrocytes; namely, those containing a normal content of AChE and a second population containing no detectable AChE. The AChE-negative population of cells is quantitatively complement-sensitive. These data support suggestions that PNH is a clonal disorder resulting in two distinct types of circulating erythrocytes. The abnormal clone produces cells that are both surface-AChE-negative and complement-sensitive. In addition, the method described provides an attractive alternative for the diagnosis and quantitative evaluation of abnormal erythrocytes in PNH patients.