The viability of normal bone marrow myeloid precursor cells induced by interleukin-6 (IL-6) or IL-1 alpha and the ability of IL-6 and IL-1 alpha to induce the formation of colonies of granulocytes, macrophages, or megakaryocytes in densely seeded bone marrow cultures was suppressed by transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1). Induction of normal bone marrow colony formation by IL-3 was much less sensitive to TGF- beta 1, and there was little or no effect of TGF-beta 1 on colony formation induced by macrophage colony-stimulating factor (M-CSF) or granulocyte-macrophage CSF (GM-CSF). In different clones of myeloid leukemic cells, TGF-beta 1 suppressed differentiation induced with IL- 6, IL-1 alpha, or lipopolysaccharide (LPS), but did not suppress differentiation induced with IL-3 or GM-CSF. The effect of TGF-beta 1 on differentiation of the leukemic cells can be dissociated from its effect on cell growth. TGF-beta 1 suppressed the production of IL-6 in normal bone marrow cells cultured with IL-1 alpha and the production of IL-6 and GM-CSF in leukemic cells cultured with IL-1 alpha or LPS. The suppression of IL-6 production can explain the suppression by TGF-beta 1 of the effects of IL-1 alpha and LPS that are mediated by IL-6. TGF- beta 1 also suppressed differentiation in clones of myeloid leukemic cells induced with differentiation factor/leukemia inhibitory factor and tumor necrosis factor. In different leukemic clones TGF-beta 1 suppressed or enhanced induction of differentiation with dexamethasone. The results show that TGF-beta 1 can selectively control the activity of different molecular regulators of normal and leukemic hematopoiesis.