Platelet factor 4 (PF4) is a multifunctional protein specific to platelets, synthesized in megakaryocytes and stored in alpha granules. This report of our work shows that PF4 potently inhibits human megakaryocyte colony formation in vitro. Colony formation by megakaryocyte progenitor cells from normal bone marrows was studied using the plasma clot culture system and indirect immunoperoxidase staining. Nonadherent mononuclear cells were co-cultured with various concentrations (0 to 20 micrograms/mL) of highly purified human PF4. Statistically significant inhibition of three classes of megakaryocyte progenitor cells, the mixed colony forming unit-megakaryocytes (mCFU- MK), the burst forming unit-megakaryocytes (BFU-MK), and the colony forming unit-megakaryocytes (CFU-MK), was seen at a PF4 concentration of 2.5 micrograms/mL or greater. PF4 had no effect on erythroid (BFU-E) and granulocyte/macrophage (CFU-GM) colony formation except at high concentration (5 micrograms/mL for BFU-E and 10 micrograms/mL for CFU- GM). When a concentration of 5 micrograms/mL PF4 was added at various time points during marrow culture, a reduction of megakaryocyte colony formation also occurred. In the presence of PF4 2.5 micrograms or 5 micrograms/mL, the percentage of mature type of colonies was found to be decreased compared with cultures with no added PF4. These data demonstrate that PF4 inhibits both proliferation and maturation of megakaryocyte progenitor cells in vitro and suggest that PF4 may play a role in autoregulating human megakaryocytopoiesis.