Marrow regulation and iron metabolism were evaluated in 17 patients with mild or moderate anemia associated with chronic disorders. In addition, whole blood P50 and red cell 2,3-diphosphoglycerate (DPG) levels were measured. The study group consisted of seven patients with non-hematologic malignancies, nine with infection or inflammation, and one with idiopathic hypoproliferative anemia. The mean whole blood P50 and DPG levels were elevated to 28.5 +/- 1.9 mm Hg and 7.03 +/- 0.83 mumole/ml packed RBC, respectively, as compared to normal values of 26.6 +/- 0.6 mm Hg and 4.83 +/- 0.33 mumole/ml packed RBC. Erythropoietin (ESF) excretion was variable (1.1–28.7 IRP U, day), clearly elevated above normal in only three patients and, within the study group, bore no relation to hematocrit. While nine of the 17 subjects had ESF excretion rates within the 95% limits predicted by hematocrit, the remaining eight had lower than expected values. No significant differences in ferrokinetics, ESF excretion, or hematologic profile were found between patients with malignancy and those with inflammation. Marrow transit times correlated inversely with both serum and urine ESF activity (r = -0.57, p less than 0.02; and r = -0.63, p less than 0.01, respectively), indicating that the marrow reticulocyte release response to ESF stimulation was unimpaired. Erythroid iron turnovers were unrelated to serum or urinary ESF activity but were significantly correlated with serum iron levels expressed as microgram/100 ml whole blood (r = 0.56, p less than 0.02). These studies suggest that there is an intraerythrocytic response to the anemia in this group of patients, document that reduced ESF production is not a uniform finding with the anemia of chronic disorders, and provide evidence that the marrow proliferative response to anemia is limited in many patients primarily by the availability of iron.