Interferons (IFNs) have been shown to have significant effects on hematopoietic cell growth. Previous studies defining these effects have utilized mouse and human alpha-, beta-, and gamma-IFN isolated from supernatants of stimulated cells. Despite purification, the possible presence of other lymphokines and soluble factors remains a concern. In this study, the effects of gene-cloned alpha- and gamma-IFN on colony- forming units of granulocyte/macrophage (CFU-GM) progenitors cultured from the peripheral blood of normal volunteers were examined. In addition, blast cell colonies from one patient with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) were studied. The growth of normal CFU-GM and AML blast cell colonies was inhibited in a dose-dependent manner by gamma- and alpha-IFN. gamma-IFN was ten to 100 times more potent than alpha-IFN in that this species of IFN reduced colony formation by greater than 50% at concentrations of less than 15 antiviral U/mL. The effects of gamma- IFN were neutralized by a monoclonal antibody specific for gamma-IFN. These in vitro studies indicate that human gamma-IFN may be an important modulator of myelopoiesis. Although these data indicate a possible efficacy of gamma-IFN in the treatment of AML, the in vitro results should be considered for their in vivo significance.