A bivariate flow cytometric technique has been developed in which Hoechst 33342 stained vital cells are discriminated from early damaged cells by differences in their fluorescence emission spectra. A discrete population of cells with intact cell membranes passing from vital to dead could be identified by using propidium iodide exclusion in combination with a concentration-independent spectrum shift of Hoechst fluorescence to longer wavelengths. The appearance after injury of two subsets of cells with intact membranes representing vital and early damaged cells, respectively, indicates two types of binding of Hoechst 33342 to these cells, presumably resulting from differences in chromatin structure. The method was tested in murine and human hemopoietic cell lines by cytotoxic treatment with cytosine arabinoside and interleukin 3 deprivation in factor-dependent lines. The power of the method was demonstrated by a cell cycle analysis of the early damaged cells after both cytotoxic treatment and growth factor deprivation.