We administered the anti-angiogenic drug thalidomide to 21 patients (12 men) with myelofibrosis with myeloid metaplasia (MMM), who were not responsive to standard treatment. Patients received thalidomide at an escalating dose from 100 to 400 mg/d. Administration of the drug was discontinued before the planned 6 months of treatment in 19 patients (90·5%), mainly because of somnolence and/or fatigue, neurological symptoms or neutropenia. Of the 13 evaluable patients (who received more than 30 d of therapy), anaemia improved in three out of seven (43%) who were treated because of anaemia; thrombocytopenia improved in two out of three (66·6%) who were treated because of thrombocytopenia; splenomegaly was reduced in four (30·8%). Undesired increases in white blood cell and platelet counts were observed in three (23·1%) and five (38·5%) patients respectively. A severity score, indexed on haematological and clinical parameters, improved in two patients (15·4%), but worsened in five (38·5%). In conclusion, standard-dose thalidomide in MMM patients is burdened with a high rate of side-effects, which prevent prolonged treatment. Because the drug is effective in improving anaemia and thrombocytopenia and in reducing splenomegaly, low-dose therapy warrants evaluation. The unexpected observation of leucocytosis and thrombocytosis suggests biological studies and better criteria for selection of patients for treatment.