Rodents treated with 150 mg/kg of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) exhibit a marked and prolonged rebound thrombocytosis, suggesting that feedback control of one or more megakaryocyte characteristics (size, polyploidy, or concentration) is altered. To determine the changes in megakaryocytes that lead to such a profound thrombocytosis, C3H mice were injected with 150 mg/kg 5-FU, and platelet and megakaryocyte responses were examined at frequent intervals from days 1 through 25. After 5-FU injection, all megakaryocyte indices decreased, as did platelet number. However, the decrease in platelets to one third of control was greater than the decreases in megakaryocyte indices, suggesting that thrombocytopoiesis was ineffective from days 3 through 7 post 5-FU. Megakaryocyte size began to recover on day 4, followed by polyploid DNA content on day 5, and megakaryocyte concentration and platelets at 7.5 days. Megakaryocyte size peaked on days 6 through 8 (1.25 x normal), followed by megakaryocyte polyploid DNA content on day 8, megakaryocyte concentration on days 9 through 12 (2 1/2 to 3x normal), and platelets on days 12 through 15 (2x normal). Platelet levels are thought to be important in the feedback regulation of megakaryocytes; however, only polyploid DNA content distributions showed a close inverse relationship to platelet counts during both the recovery and rebound thrombocytosis phases after 5-FU. In contrast, megakaryocyte size peaked before platelet recovery commenced, while megakaryocyte concentration increased in parallel with platelets from 7.5 to 10 days post 5-FU and continued to be maintained at 2 to 3 times normal through day 13, despite platelet levels that were more than twice normal. Both megakaryocyte size and polyploid DNA content distributions shifted toward lower values in response to the rebound thrombocytosis (DNA content on day 10 and size on days 12 and 13). Splenectomy did not substantially alter the pattern of post 5-FU rebound thrombocytosis or megakaryocyte response from that seen in intact mice, indicating that splenic megakaryocytes are not responsible for the prolonged thrombocytosis seen after this drug. In summary, the prolonged thrombocytosis after 5-FU administration results from failure to down-regulate the number of precursors entering the differentiating megakaryocyte compartment. These data indicate that megakaryocyte size and DNA content are responsive to different feedback controls than megakaryocyte concentration in this model system.