The relationship between major histocompatibility complex class II antigens (MHC class II, eg, HLA-DR, Ia), T lymphocytes, and the enhancement of erythroid colony formation from BFU-E by prostaglandin E was analyzed using normal bone marrow cells. In primary methylcellulose culture, the addition of prostaglandin E1 (PGE1) to unseparated buffy coat, low-density, or nonadherent low-density (NAL) marrow cells resulted in an enhancement of the total number of erythroid (BFU-E) colonies observed. Treatment of bone marrow cells with a monoclonal antihuman MHC class II antibody plus complement (C') resulted in a reduction of the total number of colonies by approximately 50% and abrogation of the enhancing effect of PGE1. Analysis of accessory cell requirements by depletion of both adherent cells and sheep erythrocyte rosetting lymphocytes (E+ cells) and reconstitution using C' or anti- MHC class II antibody plus C'-treated T cell-depleted NAL (NALT-) marrow cells and E+ cell populations treated with C' or anti-MHC class II antibody plus C' demonstrated a requirement for MHC class II antigen- T cells, but not adherent cells, and a requirement for MHC class II antigen + BFU-E in order to observe the enhancing effect of PGE1 on erythroid colony formation. Positive selection of BFU-E in NALT- bone marrow expressing differing density distributions of MHC class II antigens was accomplished with monoclonal anti-MHC class II antibodies and sorting with a fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS). Addition of E+ cells to the different populations of MHC class II antigen+ NALT- cells demonstrated that the PGE-enhancing effects on erythroid colony formation were directly related to increasing density distributions of MHC class II antigens on BFU-E. Colony formation by BFU-E expressing a low density distribution of MHC class II antigens or having no detectable MHC class II antigens, as determined by FACS analysis, was not enhanced by PGE1 in the presence of MHC class II antigen-positive or -negative T cells.