The Friend virus complex was used as a model to study the effects of merocyanine 540 (MC 540)-mediated photosensitization on enveloped viruses. Simultaneous exposure to the lipophilic dye MC 540 and white light inactivated cell-free virus, cell-associated virus, and virus- transformed cells. When used under experimental conditions that are known to preserve most mature blood cells, at least some coagulation factors, and a significant portion of the pluripotent hematopoietic stem cell compartment, MC 540-mediated photosensitization reduced virus titers by greater than or equal to 4 log and the concentration of in vitro clonogenic erythroleukemia cells by greater than or equal to 5 log. Animals that received a single intravenous injection of photosensitized virus were resistant to a subsequent challenge with live virus. High sensitivity to MC 540-mediated photosensitization appears to be a property that is shared by other enveloped viruses. Thus, photosensitization mediated by MC 540 may be of benefit in the sterilization of blood products (in particular, cellular products), the production of vaccines, and selected areas of antiviral therapy.