A panel of human cell lines was screened for production of colony- stimulating factor-1 (CSF-1) using a specific radioreceptor assay and criterion of macrophage colony growth in mouse bone marrow culture. The pancreatic carcinoma lines MIA PaCa and PANC were found to secrete high levels of CSF-1. In a bone marrow proliferation assay, the activities from these two lines were blocked by a CSF-1 specific neutralizing antiserum, confirming the predominant content of this macrophage growth factor. MIA PaCA cells stopped secreting CSF-1 when transferred to various serum-free media. Serum-free production could be reinitiated by phorbol myristic acetate (PMA). Purified CSF-1 from serum-free MIA PaCa cells stimulated the formation of 14-day colonies from total and nonadherent mononuclear human bone marrow cells. Most of the colonies consisted exclusively of large, dispersed macrophages that were intensely stained for nonspecific esterase. Although similar numbers of human 14-day colonies were stimulated by CSF-1 and other CSFs, more CSF- 1 was required for the proliferation of human as compared with murine bone marrow progenitors. Northern analysis of mRNA from induced-MIA PaCa cells, using a human CSF-1 oligonucleotide probe, revealed multiple species of CSF-1 mRNA ranging from 1.5 to 4.5 kilobases (kb). Uninduced, serum-free cultures showed only the largest mRNA species, suggesting that serum removal interfered with CSF-1 mRNA processing related to synthesis and/or secretion of the protein. Regulation of the production of CSF-1 may be an important physiological process in hematopoiesis and macrophage functioning.