Recently, the ligand for c-mpl has been identified and cloned. Initial studies of this molecule indicate that it is the platelet regulatory factor, thrombopoietin (TPO). Previous work has indicated that c-mpl is expressed in very immature hematopoietic precursors and thus raised the possibility that TPO may act directly on the hematopoietic stem cell. Therefore, in these studies, we investigate the effects of TPO on hematopoietic stem cell populations isolated from the murine fetal liver and bone marrow. Cocultivation of stem cells with fetal liver stroma give rise to multilineage expansion of the stem cells but with little or no megakaryocytopoiesis. Addition of TPO to these cocultures gives significant megakaryocyte production. This production is enhanced in combination with Kit ligand or interleukin-3. The addition of TPO to stem cell suspension cultures produces a dynamic thrombopoietic system in which stem cells undergo differentiation to produce megakaryocytes and proplatelets. These experiments show that the megakaryocytopoietic and thrombopoietic activities of TPO are initiated at the level of an early progenitor cell or upon the hematopoietic stem cell.