Phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) induces the expression of megakaryocyte and/or platelet proteins during terminal differentiation of human erythroleukemia (HEL) cells. However, it is not established whether megakaryocytic differentiation is accompanied by the downregulation of the major erythroid transcription factor GATA-1 and the concomitant loss of the erythrocytic phenotype. Studies of the molecular mechanism of PMA-induced differentiation in HEL cells showed that when HEL cells are treated with PMA, they dramatically decrease the expression of the erythroid-specific gene glycophorin A at the mRNA level but apparently not at the steady-state protein level. In addition, a gel mobility shift assay was used to demonstrate that GATA-1, a major erythroid transcription factor normally present at high levels in HEL cells is downregulated after treatment with PMA. In contrast, the DNA-binding activities of transcription factors AP-1 and SP-1 are upregulated by PMA treatment of HEL cells. Furthermore, Northern blot analysis shows that PMA also downregulates the steady-state level of GATA-1 mRNA in HEL cells. The coordinated negative regulation of glycophorin A mRNA and GATA-1 expression after PMA treatment suggests that downregulation of GATA-1 expression may be partially responsible for the loss of the erythroid phenotype during megakaryocytic differentiation. The reported data also suggest that GATA-1 activity may not be essential for obtaining megakaryocytic phenotype during terminal differentiation in HEL cells.