Basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) and transforming growth factor- beta 1 (TGF-beta) have both been shown to act on hematopoietic progenitor cells. bFGF is a hematopoietic cytokine that acts on progenitor cells in concert with other cytokines to promote their proliferation. TGF-beta induces erythroid differentiation in K562 cells. To determine whether bFGF might act on progenitor cells by antagonizing the effects of cytokines that induce differentiation, we determined the effects of bFGF on the TGF-beta-mediated induction of hemoglobin synthesis in K562 cells. bFGF antagonized the TGF-beta- mediated induction of hemoglobin in a dose-dependent manner, with 0.1 ng/mL bFGF inhibiting hemoglobin induction by 40% and 10 ng/mL bFGF completely abrogating hemoglobin production. bFGF was most effective at antagonizing the TGF-beta-mediated induction of hemoglobin if it and TGF-beta were added simultaneously to K562 cells, but delayed addition of bFGF to TGF-beta-treated cultures still resulted in significant inhibition of hemoglobin synthesis. The inhibitory effects of bFGF on hemoglobin production were fully reversible, showing that bFGF did not permanently alter the phenotype of K562 cells. The hemin-mediated induction of hemoglobin synthesis in K562 cells was only partially negated by bFGF. bFGF also diminished the expression of glycophorin A on the surface of K562 cells. These results indicate that bFGF might increase progenitor/stem cell numbers by antagonizing the effects of cytokines that induce differentiation, thereby increasing the pool of proliferating progenitor/stem cells.