We have used two in vitro models to identify genes whose expression may serve as markers of lineage commitment during the development of hematopoietic stem cells. One system involves the development in vitro of blastocyst-derived embryonic stem cells into embryoid bodies. The second involves culturing of day 3.5 blastocysts in vitro under conditions that support their development into yolk saclike cysts. In both cases, hematopoietic cells arise in a manner that closely mimics the normal process occurring in the yolk sac of the early mouse embryo. We have focused our analysis on the expression of mRNAs for 15 hematopoietic growth factor receptor genes and other genes expressed in a hematopoietic lineage-specific manner. Although some growth factor receptor genes are apparently expressed constitutively during in vitro development, there are several classes of genes that undergo a highly consistent pattern of induction in both model systems. Genes induced early include those encoding the shared beta subunits of the interleukin-3 (IL-3), IL-5, and granulocyte-macrophage colony- stimulating factor (GM-CSF) receptors; those induced at intermediate times include the c-fms, G-CSF receptor, and CD34 genes; and a gene induced late during in vitro development is the IL-7 receptor gene. The defined temporal order for the expression of these genes suggests that they may be useful as markers for multiple stages in the development of different hematopoietic cell lineages during embryogenesis.