Biotin-labeled granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM- CSF), in combination with phycoerythrin-conjugated streptavidin, enabled flow cytometric analysis of specific cell-surface GM-CSF receptors on rhesus monkey bone marrow (BM) and peripheral blood (PB) cells. GM-CSF receptors were readily detected on PB monocytes and neutrophils, but not on lymphocytes. In BM, GM-CSF receptors were identified on monocyte and neutrophil precursors and on subsets of cells that expressed the CD34 antigen. CD34+ cells with high GM-CSF- receptor expression coexpressed high levels of the class II major histocompatibility antigen RhLA-DR, whereas CD34+/RhLA-DRlow cells, which represent developmentally earlier cells, were either GM-CSF- receptor negative or expressed GM-CSF receptors at very low levels. The fluorescence histogram of CD34bright/RhLA-DRdull cells stained with biotin-GM-CSF showed that at least a fraction of these cells expressed low levels of GM-CSF receptors. CD34+ cells with high GM-CSF-receptor expression, purified by cell sorting, did not form colonies in culture or proliferate in response to GM-CSF. Instead, GM-CSF stimulation resulted in terminal differentiation into adherent cells, showing that these cells represented monocyte precursors. A distinct subset of CD34+ cells expressed GM-CSF receptors at low-to-intermediate levels and proliferated strongly in the presence of GM-CSF during short-term culture, but produced very few erythroid or monomyeloid colonies after longer culture periods. Most colony-forming cells, also those responsive to GM-CSF alone, were recovered in the subset of CD34+ cells on which GM-CSF receptors were virtually undetectable. These cells showed weaker proliferation in short-term proliferation assays than the CD34+/GM-CSF-receptor-intermediate cells, consistent with an immature phenotype. The results show that GM-CSF-receptor expression is initiated in a subset of immature, CD34bright/RhLA-DRdull cells and is progressively increased during differentiation into mature granulocytes and monocytes. The method used provides a new way to deplete developmentally early CD34+ cell of differentiating granulocyte and monocyte precursor cells.