Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) are characterized by chronic refractory cytopenias resulting in increased risk of infection, bleeding, and conversion to acute leukemia. In an effort to improve these cytopenias we have treated 18 patients over a 6- to 8-week period with increasing daily subcutaneous doses of recombinant human granulocyte colony- stimulating factor (G-CSF). Sixteen patients responded with improvement in neutrophil counts. On cessation of treatment these counts returned to baseline values over a 2- to 4-week period. To maintain these improved blood counts 11 patients were treated with G-CSF for more prolonged periods. Ten patients again responded with an increase in total leukocyte counts (1.6- to 6.4-fold) and absolute neutrophil counts (ANC) (3.6- to 16.3-fold), with responses persisting for 3 to 16 months. A significantly decreased risk of developing bacterial infections was noted during periods with ANC greater than 1,500/mm3 as compared with periods of time with ANC less than 1,500/mm3. Two anemic patients had a greater than 20% rise in hematocrit over the study period, and 2 additional patients had a decrease in red blood cell transfusion requirements during G-CSF treatment. Bone marrow myeloid maturation improved in 7 of 9 maintenance phase patients. Three patients progressed to acute myeloid leukemia during treatment. The drug was generally well-tolerated and no severe toxicities were noted. These data demonstrated that G-CSF administered to MDS patients by daily subcutaneous administration was well-tolerated and effective in causing persistent improvement of the neutrophil levels and marrow myeloid maturation. These effects were associated with a decreased risk of infection and, in some patients, with decreased red blood cell transfusion requirements.