Although much is now known about the biological properties of the c-kit receptor and its ligand, stem cell factor (SCF), little is known of the structural basis for the binding and function of this hematopoietic cytokine. By analyzing the activities of chimeric interspecies and homologue muteins and epitope mapping of a monoclonal antibody (MoAb) to the human protein, we have found that three distinct regions of SCF are essential for full biological function. Homologue and interspecies swapping of polypeptide sequences between the amino terminus and G35, between L79 and N97, and between R121 and D128 reduced or eliminated the ability of the chimera to act in synergy with murine granulocyte- macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) to promote hematopoietic colony formation. Moreover, a nonconformation-dependent MoAb that neutralizes human, but not murine SCF, was found to bind to residues within the L79-N97 segment of the human homologue. As these three regions localize to the putative first, third, and fourth helices of the protein, findings remarkably similar to previous studies of cytokines as diverse as growth hormone, GM-CSF, and interleukin (IL)-4, our results suggest that cytokines of multiple classes share a common functional organization.