Thrombopoietin (Tpo), the ligand for the c-mpl receptor, is a major regulator of platelet production in vivo. Treatment of mice with purified recombinant Tpo increases platelet count fourfold and expands colony-forming unit-megakaryocyte (CFU-Meg) numbers. Other cytokines including interleukin-3 (IL-3), IL-6, IL-11, erythropoietin (Epo), and stem cell factor (SCF) can stimulate megakaryopoiesis. Therefore, we examined the effects of recombinant murine Tpo in combination with these cytokines on megakaryopoiesis in vitro. Murine marrow cells were cultured in agar in Iscove's modified Dulbecco's medium (IMDM) supplemented with 10% horse serum and beta-mercaptoethanol in the presence of recombinant growth factors, and CFU-Meg colonies were counted on day 5. Megakaryocyte ploidy was analyzed using murine marrow cells cultured for 5 days in IMDM supplemented with 1% nutridoma-SP and recombinant growth factors. Megakaryocytes were identified by labeling with the 4A5 antibody and ploidy was analyzed by flow cytometry. Tpo supported the growth of CFU-Meg in a dose-dependent manner. Although the addition of SCF (50 ng/mL), Epo (2 U/mL), or IL-11 (50 ng/mL) alone exerted only a modest effect on CFU-Meg growth, the combination of SCF plus Tpo, Epo plus Tpo, or IL-11 plus Tpo resulted in a synergistic enhancement of the number of CFU-Meg colonies. IL-3 alone supported CFU- Meg colony growth, and the effects of IL-3 plus Tpo or IL-6 plus Tpo on colony growth appeared to be approximately additive. Fifty percent of megakaryocytes generated in cultures containing IL-3 or Epo displayed < or = 16 N ploidy. In contrast, cultures containing Tpo uniquely generated large numbers (30% to 35% of the total) of megakaryocytes with > or = 64N ploidy. These results show that Tpo stimulates both proliferation of committed megakaryocytic progenitor cells and maturation of megakaryocytes, and that two multipotent cytokines, SCF and IL-11, as well as a late-acting erythroid cytokine, Epo, can synergize with Tpo to stimulate proliferation of CFU-Meg.