To identify domains in hematopoietic growth factor receptors that are important for signal transduction, a hybrid receptor (GMER) was constructed by splicing the DNA of the entire extracellular and transmembrane domains of the human granulocyte-macrophage colony- stimulating factor (GM-CSF) receptor alpha 2 subunit (GMR) to the cytoplasmic domain of the murine erythropoietin receptor (mEpoR). The hybrid receptor was introduced into the interleukin-3 factor-dependent murine hematopoietic cell line Ba/F3. Cells that expressed high receptor numbers were selected by cell sorting using phycoerythrin- labeled human GM-CSF. Immunoprecipitation of GMER from Ba/F3 cells showed a band with an Mr of 105,000 daltons. Human GM-CSF binding to Ba/F3 cells that expressed GMER showed a kd of 3.0 nmol/L and 475 binding sites/cell, while the same cells that expressed GMR had 300 sites/cell and a kd of 3.5 nmol/L. The proliferative response to GM-CSF of Ba/F3 cells that expressed GMER showed 1/2 maximal cell growth (as measured by 3H-thymidine incorporation) at a GM-CSF concentration of 2.5 x 10(-8) mol/L. When cultured in human GM-CSF, Ba/F3-GMER cells expressed cell surface glycophorin. Similar results were obtained with Ba/F3 cells transfected with the mEpoR and cultured in erythropoietin. Expression of GMR plus the human GM-CSF receptor beta chain in the same cell line also resulted in human GM-CSF stimulated proliferation; however, cell surface glycophorin was not detected. These data show that a low-affinity GM-CSF/Epo hybrid receptor can promote GM-CSF- dependent proliferation and can induce the expression of glycophorin, an erythroid-specific protein.