K562 human erythroleukemia cells are an established cell line derived from an adult with chronic myelogenous leukemia. Hemin stimulates their synthesis of embryonic and fetal hemoglobins. We have found that their globin synthetic pattern depends on the concentration of added hemin. Clone RA6 was cultured with 0--100 microM hemin and the globin synthetic pattern determined by 3H-leucine incorporation and analysis of 3H-globins by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis in Triton X acid urea followed by fluorography and densitometry. The higher the hemin concentration, the greater the synthetic rate of each type of globin. However, the relative increase was greatest for alpha-globin. We propose that the differential dependence of alpha synthesis on added hemin is a reflection of translational inefficiency of alpha messenger RNA and that this property is exposed when the translational capacity of the cell is limited by hemin deficiency. We suggest that the differential dependence of alpha-chain synthesis on added hemin in clone RA6 is evidence of an intrinsic deficiency in heme synthesis.