Circulating 14-day erythroid progenitors (BFU-E) from 28 sickle cell anemia (SS) patients with hemoglobin F (HbF) levels ranging from 2% to 16% were studied to determine their sensitivity to [3H] thymidine kill and burst-promoting activity (BPA)-like factor production. We find that the proportion of BFU-E sensitive to 3H-dT kill, and hence active in DNA synthesis, was inversely correlated with the percent of peripheral HbF when light density (LD) mononuclear cells were used for plating. Regression analysis showed that the correlation between HbF level and BFU-E kill was highly significant (r = .88; P less than .00003). We confirmed the BPA-like factor(s) production by LD mononuclear cells of SS patients, and found, in addition, that this phenomenon is restricted to the population of SS patients with HbF levels lower than 9%. Circulating BFU-E of patients with high HbF levels are not sensitive to 3H-dT, and their mononuclear cells do not release BPA-like factor. In summary, SS patients exhibit differences in the capacity of their mononuclear cells to produce BPA activity according to their peripheral HbF level, as well as to the DNA synthesis-state of their circulating BFU-E. We conclude that erythroid progenitors differ among SS patients in relation to their peripheral HbF level.