Erythropoietin is a glycoprotein factor which specifically regulates the proliferation and differentiation of erythroid progenitor cells. We have investigated here the biochemical mechanisms of erythroid differentiation on mouse erythroleukemia SKT6 cells which can be induced to differentiate either with erythropoietin or dimethyl sulfoxide (Me2SO). cAMP-elevating agents, such as forskolin and 3-isobutyl-1-methyl-xanthine, caused spontaneous erythroid differentiation, and these agents showed the stimulatory effects on erythropoietin- or Me2SO-induced differentiation. An adenylate cyclase inhibitor, 2′,5′-dideoxyadenosine, blocked erythropoietin-induced differentiation. The intracellular cAMP level was rapidly increased by addition of erythropoietin but not by Me2SO. These observations suggest that erythroid differentiation induced by erythropoietin is mediated, at least in part, through the cAMP-dependent pathway. When the effect of erythropoietin and Me2SO on the intracellular Ca2+ level was examined using fura 2, no acute change was observed. Measurements of the levels of inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate and diacylglycerol following stimulation with erythropoietin or Me2SO showed that phosphatidylinositol turnover did not change significantly after erythropoietin stimulation but decreased gradually after Me2SO induction. Taken together, these results indicate that a complex signaling network including the cAMP-dependent pathway is involved in the erythroid differentiation process.