In a phase I-II study, nine patients with myelodysplastic syndromes and concomitant severe transfusion-dependent cytopenias were treated with recombinant human interleukin-3 (rhIL-3) to improve hematopoietic function. Doses of rhIL-3 ranged from 250 micrograms/m2 to 500 micrograms/m2 and were given as daily subcutaneous bolus injections for 15 days. Blood leucocyte counts increased 1.3- to 3.6-fold in all nine patients, including neutrophils, eosinophils, lymphocytes, basophils, and monocytes. The mean absolute neutrophil counts increased from 1,350/microL (range, 150 to 2,420) to 2,660/microL (range, 300 to 9,380) (P less than .05) immediately after the end of rhIL-3 therapy and to a maximum count of 4,096/microL (range, 350 to 10,820) (P less than .01). Platelet responses were seen in two of four profoundly thrombocytopenic patients, resulting in discontinuation of platelet transfusion. The requirements for red blood cell transfusion temporarily improved in one patient. Stimulation of plasma cells was evident by a significant increase in serum IgM and IgA levels. Mild side effects (fever, headache, local erythema, and bone pain) were observed in some patients, while transient thrombocytopenia developed in two patients. Disease progression with an increase in blast cells was seen in one patient. These results suggest that rhIL-3 is effective in stimulating hematopoiesis of all lineages in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes and may produce at least short-term hematologic improvement.