In order to better define the role of HIV-related chemokines in human erythropoiesis we studied: A) the expression of chemokine receptors, both on human CD34+ cells which include erythroid progenitors and on more mature erythroid cells; B) the functionality of these receptors by calcium flux, chemotaxis assay and phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK) p42/44 (ERK1/ERK2) and AKT, and finally C) the influence of chemokines on BFU-E formation. We found that HIV-related chemokine receptor CXCR4, but not CCR5, is detectable on human CD34+ BFU-E cells. CXCR4 surface expression decreased during erythroid maturation, although CXCR4 mRNA was still present in cells isolated from differentiated erythroid colonies. SDF-1, a CXCR4 ligand, induced calcium flux and phosphorylation of MAPK (p42/44) and AKT in CD34+KIT+ bone marrow mononuclear cells which contain BFU-E, as well as chemotactic activity of both human CD34+ BFU-E progenitors and erythroid cells isolated from day 2-6 BFU-E colonies. Responsiveness to SDF-1 decreased when the cells differentiated to the point of surface expression of the erythroid-specific marker Glycophorin-A. In contrast, the CCR5 ligands (macrophage inflammatory protein-1α [MIP-1α], MIP-1β, and RANTES) did not activate calcium flux, MAPK and AKT phosphorylation or chemotaxis of CD34+KIT+ cells or cells isolated from the BFU-E colonies. Interestingly, none of the chemokines tested in this study had any effect on BFU-E colony formation. In conclusion, only CXCR4 is functional, and its specific ligand SDF-1 may therefore play an important role in the homing and/or retention of early erythroid precursors in the bone marrow environment.