Amegakaryocytic thrombocytopenia (AMT) is a rare and often fatal disorder of infancy and childhood presenting with isolated thrombocytopenia that progresses to marrow failure. The defect in thrombopoiesis is not well understood nor is the etiology of the progressive marrow failure. No standard modality of treatment exists. Here, we evaluated the capacity of marrow cells isolated from five patients with AMT and progressive marrow failure to generate megakaryocyte progenitor cells (CFU-MK). These in vitro studies demonstrated assayable numbers of CFU-MK from all patient bone marrows that responded in vitro to the addition of interleukin-3 (IL-3), granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), or the combination of both. These findings suggest that the defect in AMT might be partially correctable by the administration of these cytokines. A Phase I/II trial of in vivo administration of these same hematopoietins in the identical patients was conducted in which no significant toxicity was observed. IL-3 but not GM-CSF administration resulted in improved platelet counts in two patients and decreased bleeding and transfusion requirement in the remaining three. No clinical benefit was observed when GM-CSF was administered after IL-3 pretreatment. Prolonged IL-3 administration has resulted in platelet increases in an additional two patients. In vitro responsiveness of CFU- MK to either cytokine did not predict the degree of clinical response. Although the optimal dose and schedule of IL-3 either alone or in combination remains to be established, this study suggests that IL-3 may contribute to the treatment of patients with AMT.