We conducted a reliability study of whole crypt mitotic count, a measure of cellular proliferation with potential use as an intermediate marker in studies of colorectal cancer risk and prevention. The study involved biopsies taken from two distinct locations at 8-10 cm from the anal verge for 20 subjects scheduled to undergo routine endoscopy. In addition to the overall count of mitoses per crypt (mitotic count), we investigated two novel measures based on the percentages of heights of mitotic cells within crypts: the mean height, and the maximum minus minimum (max - min) height of mitoses. The max - min height was positively correlated with mitotic count (r = 0.64); however, there was little correlation between mitotic count and the mean height of mitotic cells (r = 0.12). Components of variance were estimated for the three measures; for mitotic count and max - min height, the variability between persons was substantially greater than that between locations within an individual. For mean height, the between-person and between-location variabilities were roughly equal. These results suggest that whole crypt mitotic count has promise as a reliable measure of rectal cellular proliferation, but further studies will be necessary to assess the utility of this assay.