We have studied the effects of recombinant human granulocyte colony- stimulating factor (rhG-CSF), hG macrophage-CSF (hGM-CSF), and gibbon interleukin-3 (gIL-3) on cell proliferation and differentiation in human long-term bone marrow culture (LTBMC). hG-CSF induced a maximal increase of 2.3-fold in both total nonadherent cells and GM cluster- forming cells, but only an increase of 1.7-fold in GM-colony-forming cell (GM-CFC) numbers, influencing mainly neutrophil differentiation. Cultures treated with hGM-CSF demonstrated a peak of 12.8-, 21- and 3.2- fold elevations in total nonadherent cells, cluster, and GM-CFC, respectively, and influenced differentiation of neutrophils, monocytes, eosinophils, and lymphocytes. Cultures treated with gIL-3 demonstrated the largest expansion in the GM-CFC population, reaching a maximum of 5.3-fold in relation to that of unstimulated controls. IL-3 treatment also increased the numbers of GM clusters and mature cells (including all myeloid cells and lymphocytes) 7.8- and 4.8-fold, respectively. Similar quantitative and qualitative changes were induced by G-CSF, GM- CSF, and IL-3 in LTBMCs of patients in remission after treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia or Hodgkin's lymphoma. Overall, the expansion of GM progenitor cells in cultures treated with growth factors was larger in the adherent cell layer than in the nonadherent cell fraction. In addition, hGM-CSF, gIL-3, and hG-CSF to a less extent, increased the cycling rates of GM-CFC progenitors located in the adherent layer. These results indicate that hG-CSF is a much less potent stimulus of hematopoiesis in LTBMC than the other CSFs assayed, and that the increases in cell production after treatment with G-CSF, GM-CSF, or IL-3 may be achieved by primary expansion of different cell populations within the hierarchy of the hematopoietic system. The effects of the growth factors were transient and the longevity of hematopoiesis in the cultures was not altered, suggesting that treatment with IL-3, GM-CSF, or G-CSF had not compromised the ability of primitive cells to give rise to mature cells. This indicates that the stromal microenvironment in LTBMC can override potential differentiation-inducing activities of the CSFs.