AIMS: To evaluate the use of morphometry in the diagnosis of benign and malignant cutaneous lymphoid infiltrates; and to determine whether the sensitivity of detection of cutaneous T cell lymphoma (CTCL) could be improved by selectively measuring cells expressing proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA). METHODS: 44 archival biopsy specimens were studied. These included cases of CTCL, non-specific chronic dermatitis, lichen planus and lupus erythematosus. PCNA was identified using a standard immunohistological technique. Reactive cells were identified using automatic colour discrimination, and the size and shape were determined interactively. Similar measurements were made on the total dermal lymphocyte population. RESULTS: There was no significant difference between the proportions of PCNA reactive cells in any of the diseases studied. The PCNA positive lymphocytes in CTCL were larger than those in lupus erythematosus and lichen planus and were more irregular in shape than those in chronic dermatitis. Differences were also seen in the total lymphocyte population. Plotting cell size and shape(fcircle) for PCNA cells together allowed CTCL to be differentiated from the inflammatory disorders with a sensitivity of 80% and a specificity of 93%. This was better than could be achieved using measurements made on the total cell population. CONCLUSIONS: This technique can be partly automated and could be useful in the differential diagnosis of cutaneous lymphoid infiltrates. The result are also of some interest in the further understanding of patterns of cell proliferation in skin associated lymphoid tissue.