Macrophage-colony stimulating factor (M-CSF) has well-known effects on murine bone marrow, but its colony stimulating activity for human bone marrow is controversial. After treatment of human bone marrow with L- phenylalanine methylester (PME), macrophage-colonies (CFU-M) were induced by M-CSF in a dose-dependent fashion. The optimal concentration of recombinant human-macrophage colony stimulating factor (rhM-CSF) was 1,000 U/mL. Purified human urine M-CSF had colony stimulating activity similar to rhM-CSF. Further studies were performed to determine the factors responsible for the enhanced CFU-M formation from PME treated marrow. Compared with nylon wool and carbonyl iron monocyte depletion methods, PME eliminated significantly more monocytes and myeloid cells. This observation suggested that these cells may release hematopoietic inhibitory factors for CFU-M. Low concentrations (1%) but not normal (10%) concentrations of blood monocytes were inhibitory (mean inhibition, 48%) to CFU-M. High concentrations of monocytes (50%) augmented CFU-M colonies. HL-60 conditioned media was used to simulate secretory products of early myeloid cells. HL-60 conditioned media (1%) inhibited CFU-M formation but not granulocyte macrophage or granulocyte colonies. We conclude that M-CSF has colony stimulating activity for human marrow that can be recognized after removal of inhibitory cells by PME treatment.