Mechanical and enzymatic methods of disaggregating tumors were studied with the goals of (1) minimizing cell losses while (2) maintaining functional and surface membrane markers needed to objectively identify inflammatory cells (IC)1 in resultant suspensions. Application of the principles and methods described makes accurate estimation of the percentage of each IC type present in neoplasms possible for the first time. Compared to purely mechanical means of disaggregating tumors, all enzyme mixtures tested markedly increased yields of viable cells/g neoplasm. Best results were obtained with a combination of collagenase and a protease of broader substrate range (alpha chymotrypsin, papain, pronase or trypsin). The combination of enzymes that gave the highest yields with the least effect on inflammatory cell markers was trypsin, collagenase and DNAse (TCD). Because mechanical injury appeared to be the greatest single cause of cell loss (the enzymes themselves had little direct effect), potential sources were identified and either eliminated or minimized. With TCD, depending on the tumor system, cell recovery (measured as DNA recovered in cell suspensions) was as high as 50% and yields were as much as 6.9 X 10(8) viable cells/g tumor. Complete disaggregation was not required to obtain representative IC populations from tumor fragments. Neutrophils, eosinophils and mast cells from disaggregated neoplasms were counted in Giemsa stained cytocentrifuge preparations based on their unique morphologic appearances. Macrophages were identified by their capacity to phagocytose zymosan, a function which proved highly resistant to the effect of enzymes. Flourescent microscopic identification of brain associated thymus antigen (BATA) allowed quantification of T lymphocytes, since this marker was virtually unchanged by enzyme exposure. Surface immunoglobulin (Ig) was stripped from B lymphocytes most rapidly by pronase and chymotrypsin, slowly by trypsin and papain, and not at all by collagenase. Ig positive cells therefore could be quantified in suspensions generated by collagenase or very short (20 min) exposure of fragments to trypsin.