To examine the biologic properties of the molecule encoded by the human gene for granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), we expressed the cloned complementary DNA (cDNA) in transfected monkey COS cells and purified the resultant protein. Purified biosynthetic human GM-CSF was added to cultures of normal hematopoietic progenitor cells in semisolid media, and the resulting colonies were characterized cytochemically. Non-adherent light-density bone marrow cells from healthy adult volunteers were maximally stimulated with GM-CSF (approximately 250 pmol/L, and four types of colonies were consistently identified by aspirating the individual colonies and staining with a triple stain for specific and nonspecific esterases and eosinophilic granules. Pure neutrophilic granulocyte (G), mixed granulocyte- macrophage (GM), pure macrophage (M), and pure eosinophil (EO) colonies were observed, the mean incidences on day 8 being 70%, 20%, 5%, and 5%, and on day 14, 7.5%, 16.6%, 50.9%, and 25.0%, respectively. In all types of colonies, complete maturation to segmented forms or typical macrophages was detected. GM-CSF did not enhance the growth of BFU-E from normal peripheral blood buffy coat cells in the simultaneous presence of erythropoietin alone or erythropoietin with purified erythroid-potentiating activity. GM-CSF stimulated HL-60 and KG-1 colony formation twofold and fivefold, respectively; consistent differentiation induction towards monocytic and eosinophilic lineages was observed in HL-60 but not in KG-1. These in vitro findings indicate that GM-CSF is a multilineage stimulator for progenitor cells of G, GM, M, and EO colonies.