Myeloblasts derived from the peripheral blood of a patient with acute myelogenous leukemia (ORL47) were found to represent the malignant counterpart of the newly elucidated monocyte-dendritic cell colony- forming unit (mono-DC-CFU). The specific cytokine conditions require to achieve intermediate and terminal maturation of DCs and monocytes from these progenitors were defined. With tumor necrosis factor (TNF) + granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) + stem cell factor treatment numerous colony-like clusters developed. In contrast with normal DC development, further advancement of mono-DC-CFU and terminal DC maturation from the leukemic cells were dependent on the addition of interleukin-6. Functional and phenotypic analysis showed that the capacity to differentiate was maintained fully in the DC compartment, but only partially in the monocyte compartment, as judged by the lack of CD14 surface expression. Cells found at intermediate stages of DC development were potent stimulators of a mixed leukocyte reaction, a function usually attributed to mature DCs. As previously shown for normal DC development, antibodies to TNF alpha and GM-CSF blocked proliferative responses and DC growth. The importance of these observations in the classification of leukemias, normal DC development, and potential clinical strategies is discussed.