Purified preparations of recombinant human granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), granulocyte CSF (G-CSF), and interleukin 3 (IL-3 or multi-CSF) alone and in combination, have been compared for their stimulatory effects on human granulocyte-macrophage colony forming cells (GM-CFC). In cultures of unseparated normal human bone marrow, the combinations of G-CSF plus IL-3 and GM-CSF plus IL-3 stimulated additive numbers of GM colonies, while GM-CSF plus G-CSF stimulated greater than additive numbers of GM colonies, compared with the sum of the colony formation obtained with each factor alone. Cultures of unseparated bone marrow, harvested from patients four to six days after administration of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), resulted in additive GM colony formation with GM-CSF plus G-CSF, GM-CSF plus IL-3, and G-CSF plus IL-3. In order to address the possibility of secondary factor involvement in the synergistic interaction of GM-CSF and G-CSF, CD33+/CD34+ colony forming cells were separated from normal and post FU marrow by two color fluorescence activated cell sorting. In cultures of CD33+/CD34+ cells the combination of GM-CSF plus G-CSF stimulated a synergistic increase in GM colonies while GM-CSF plus IL-3 stimulated additive numbers of colonies. These results suggest that GM-CSF, G-CSF, and IL-3 stimulate distinct populations of GM-CFC. Furthermore GM-CSF and G-CSF interact synergistically and this action is a direct effect on progenitor cells not stimulated by GM-CSF or G-CSF alone.