It has been previously reported that inhibition of human erythroid colony-forming units (CFU-E) in vitro by interleukin-1 (IL-1) is an indirect effect, occurring through the production of interferon gamma (IFN gamma). IFN gamma, in turn, inhibits CFU-E colony formation directly, and its inhibitory effect can be overcome by exposure to high concentrations of erythropoietin (EPO). To develop an in vitro animal model for investigating inhibition of erythropoiesis by IFN gamma, the effects of recombinant murine (rm) IFN gamma on highly purified CFU-E from the spleens of mice infected with the anemia strain of the Friend virus (FVA) were studied. rmIFN gamma inhibited CFU-E colony formation in a dose-dependent manner. This inhibition occurred with large (> or = 8 cell) colonies only; smaller colonies were not affected. The inhibitory effect was corrected to 72% of control by high EPO concentrations of 64 U/mL. Murine CFU-E were then cultured with rmIFN gamma in the presence of a soluble murine IFN gamma receptor fused to the hinge and Fc domains of the human IgG1 heavy chain (mIFN gamma R-IgG). Inhibition of CFU-E colony formation by rmIFN gamma (100 U/mL) was corrected by mIFN gamma R-IgG in a dose-dependent manner, with an approximate IC50 of 0.05 nmol/L, and complete or near complete correction at 0.5 nmol/L. Similarly, a human IFN gamma R-IgG greatly reduced the inhibitory effect of recombinant human IFN gamma on human CFU-E. These experiments provide an in vitro animal model for studying the inhibitory effects of IFN gamma on erythropoiesis and indicate that IFN gamma R-IgG may be a useful agent for reducing the toxicity of IFN gamma in vivo.