Hematopoietic depression and subsequent susceptibility to potentially lethal opportunistic infections are well-documented phenomena following radiotherapy. Methods to therapeutically mitigate radiation-induced myelosuppression could offer great clinical value. In vivo studies in our laboratory have demonstrated that interleukin-6 (IL-6) stimulates pluripotent hematopoietic stem cell (CFU-s), granulocyte-macrophage progenitor cell (GM-CFC), and erythroid progenitor cell (CFU-e) proliferation in normal mice. Based on these results, the ability of IL-6 to stimulate hematopoietic regeneration following radiation-induced hematopoietic injury was also evaluated. C3H/HeN female mice were exposed to 6.5 Gy 60Co radiation and subcutaneously administered either saline or IL-6 (1,000 micrograms/kg) on days 1 through 3 or 1 through 6 postexposure. On days 7, 10, 14, 17, and 22, femoral and splenic CFU-s, GM-CFC, and CFU-e contents and peripheral blood white cell, red cell, and platelet counts were determined. Compared with saline treatment, both 3-day and 6-day IL-6 treatments accelerated hematopoietic recovery; 6-day treatment produced the greater effects. For example, compared with normal control values (N), femoral and splenic CFU-s numbers in IL-6-treated mice 17 days postirradiation were 27% N and 136% N versus 2% N and 10% N in saline-treated mice. At the same time, bone marrow and splenic GM-CFC values were 58% N and 473% N versus 6% N and 196% N in saline-treated mice; bone marrow and splenic CFU-e numbers were 91% N and 250% N versus 31% N and 130% N in saline-treated mice; and peripheral blood white cell, red cell, and platelet values were 210% N, 60% N, and 24% N versus 18% N, 39% N, and 7% N in saline-treated mice. These studies demonstrate that therapeutically administered IL-6 can effectively accelerate multilineage hematopoietic recovery following radiation-induced hematopoietic injury.