In this study, we explored whether thrombopoietin (Tpo) has a direct in vitro effect on the proliferation and differentiation of long-term repopulating hematopoietic stem cells (LTR-HSC). We previously reported a cell separation method that uses the fluorescence-activated cell sorter selection of low Hoescht 33342/low Rhodamine 123 (low Ho/low Rh) fluorescence cell fractions that are highly enriched for LTR-HSC and can reconstitute lethally irradiated recipients with fewer than 20 cells. Low Ho/low Rh cells clone with high proliferative potential in vitro in the presence of stem cell factor (SCF) + interleukin-3 (IL-3) + IL-6 (90% to 100% HPP-CFC). Tpo alone did not induce proliferation of these low Ho/low Rh cells. However, in combination with SCF or IL-3, Tpo had several synergistic effects on cell proliferation. When Tpo was added to single growth factors (either SCF or IL-3 or the combination of both), the time required for the first cell division of low Ho/low Rh cells was significantly shortened and their cloning efficiency increased substantially. Moreover, the subsequent clonal expansion at the early time points of culture was significantly augmented by Tpo. Low Ho/low Rh cells, when assayed in agar directly after sorting, did not form megakaryocyte colonies in any growth condition tested. Several days of culture in the presence of multiple cytokines were required to obtain colony-forming units-megakaryocyte (CFU-Mk). In contrast, more differentiated, low Ho/high Rh cells, previously shown to contain short- term repopulating hematopoietic stem cells (STR-HSC), were able to form megakaryocyte colonies in agar when cultured in Tpo alone directly after sorting. These data establish that Tpo acts directly on primitive hematopoietic stem cells selected using the Ho/Rh method, but this effect is dependent on the presence of pluripotent cytokines. These cells subsequently differentiate into CFU-Mk, which are capable of responding to Tpo alone. Together with the results of previous reports of its effects on erythroid progenitors, these results suggest that the effects of Tpo on hematopoiesis are greater than initially anticipated.