Bacterial β-galactosidase, coded by lacZ, is a widely used reporter for studies of transcriptional activity of eukaryotic promoters at the single cell level. Unfortunately, current detection methods, like X-gal cytochemistry, are slow, have suboptimal sensitivity, and are incompatible with cell survival. By a novel approach based on microinjection into cells of the fluorogenic substrate 5-chloromethylfluorescein di-β-D-galactopyranoside lacZ gene expression was detected without affecting cell viability or proliferative capacity. The method was far more sensitive than the conventional X-gal cytochemistry in all cell systems tested (primary hepatocytes, fibroblasts, and glioma cells). Results were obtained within seconds to minutes after injection, and cells remained fluorescent for hours.