We investigated the interactions between human erythropoietin (hEpo) and serum factor(s) on murine megakaryocyte (MK) colony formation. Serum-free cultures supported the growth of a large number of murine MK colonies in the presence of murine interleukin-3 (mIL-3). The addition of fetal calf serum (FCS) to mIL-3-containing cultures resulted in only a minimal increase in the number of murine MK colonies. In contrast, hEpo alone had no murine MK colony-stimulating activities in serum-free cultures. hEpo required the presence of FCS, murine serum, or human serum in cultures to promote murine MK colony growth and synergized with these sera to stimulate murine MK colony formation. Furthermore, sera from patients with aplastic anemia showed higher synergistic activities with hEpo than sera from hematologically normal persons (normal human serum). When normal human serum was fractionated by gel- filtration chromatography, two peaks with the synergistic activity were observed in the eluent. However, serum did not show any synergistic effects with hEpo on the growth of murine GM colonies or murine colony- forming unit-erythroid-derived colonies. Although human serum synergized with hEpo to stimulate murine MK colony formation, human cytokines such as IL-3, IL-4, IL-6, granulocyte-macrophage colony- stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and granulocyte-CSF (G-CSF) failed to induce murine MK colony formation in Epo-containing cultures. In cultures containing human IL-1 alpha + human IL-6 + hEpo as well as in cultures containing hEpo, human IL-3 and human GM-CSF failed to show stimulatory effects on murine MK colony formation. Moreover, the synergistic activity of human serum with hEpo could not be neutralized by antibodies such as antihuman IL-1 alpha, antihuman IL-3, antihuman IL-4, antihuman IL-6, antihuman G-CSF, and antihuman GM-CSF. Our data show that serum contains a growth factor(s) that synergizes with Epo to stimulate the proliferation and differentiation of MK precursors, and strongly suggest that this factor(s) is an unique growth factor(s) that is distinct from IL-1 alpha, IL-3, IL-4, IL-6, G-CSF, and GM-CSF.