Recently, the ligand for the Mpl receptor (ML) was identified to be thrombopoietin, the principal regulator of megakaryocytopoiesis and thrombopoiesis. We examined the effects of ML, as a single factor or in combinations with early acting factors such as steel factor (SF), interleukin (IL)-3, IL-1, IL-6, and granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF), on colony formation from primitive progenitors of mice. Cells enriched for cell cycle dormant primitive progenitors were isolated from bone marrow cells of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)-treated mice by a combination of Nycodenz density gradient separation, immunomagnetic selection for lineage-negative cells, and fluorescence- activated cell sorter (FACS) sorting for Ly-6A/E+Kit+ cells. ML, in the presence of erythropoietin, could support the formation of only a few megakaryocyte colonies. However, ML acted synergistically with SF or IL- 3 to support the formation of multiple types of hematopoietic colonies including multilineage colonies. Effects of the combination of ML and SF on multipotential progenitors were not mediated through other cells, as demonstrated by micromanipulation of individual progenitors. In suspension culture, the combination of ML and SF increased the number of multipotential progenitors. ML also acted synergistically with IL- 11, IL-6, or G-CSF to support colony formation in serum-containing, but not in serum-free, cultures. However, the multilineage colony formation seen in serum-containing culture was completely abrogated by addition of ACK2, a neutralizing antibody to Kit protein. Serial observation (mapping studies) of colony development from multipotential progenitors suggested that ML triggers the cell division of dormant progenitors. Based on these observations, we propose that ML can function as an early acting cytokine and stimulate the proliferation of cell cycle dormant progenitors by shortening their G0 period.