We examined the effects of recombinant human thrombopoietin (TPO, c-Mpl ligand) on the proliferation and differentiation of human haemopoietic progenitors other than megakaryocytic progenitors using serum-free cultures. TPO alone supported the generation of not only megakaryocytic (MK) but also blast cell (blast) colonies from cord blood CD34+ cells. Delayed addition of a cytokine cocktail (cytokines; interleukin (IL)-3, IL-6, stem cell factor, erythropoietin, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, and TPO) to cultures with TPO alone on day 7 induced various colonies including granulocyte-macrophage (GM) colonies, erythroid bursts (E), granulocyte-erythrocyte-macrophage-megakaryocyte (GEMM) colonies. Replating experiments of blast colonies supported by TPO alone for culture with cytokines revealed that approximately 60% of the blast colonies contained various haemopoietic progenitors. Single cell cultures of clone-sorted CD34+ cells indicated that TPO supported the early proliferation and/or survival of both primitive and committed haemopoietic progenitors. In serum-free suspension cultures, TPO alone significantly stimulated the production of progenitors for MK, GM, E and GEMM colonies as well as long-term culture-initiating cells. These effects were completely abrogated by anti-TPO antibody. These results suggest that TPO is an important cytokine in the early proliferation of human primitive as well as committed haemopoietic progenitors, and in the ex vivo manipulation of human haemopoietic progenitors.