The interaction of the proto-oncogene c-kit product with its ligand (stem cell factor or SCF) is considered to play crucial roles in hematopoiesis. In a series of human acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML) cells, the effects of recombinant human (rh) SCF on AML cells were examined in short-term and long-term cultures. c-kit expression was detected in 26 of 31 AML cases, and short-term treatment of AML cells with rhSCF led to proliferation in 13 of 18 AML cases that expressed the c-kit product. In seven of the 13 cases showing proliferative response to rhSCF, AML cells were exclusively composed of immature blast cells. We therefore used the seven AML cases for examining the effect of rhSCF on the differentiation and proliferation of AML cells in a long-term culture. Proliferation of AML cells was found to be maintained with rhSCF more than 2 weeks in five of seven cases and 4 weeks in two cases, whereas most of the AML cells died before 2 weeks in the absence of rhSCF. Further, in four of five AML cases, all of which expressed the CD34 antigen and showed a proliferative response to rhSCF in a long-term culture, rhSCF appeared to promote differentiation of blast cells toward lineages of various cell types, such as granulocytic and/or monocytic and mast-cell lineages. These results suggest that, at least in a fraction of AML cases, rhSCF can induce not only proliferation but also differentiation of AML cells, and also that phenotypic manifestation of AML cells may not mean definite cell commitment but can be changed by stimulation with rhSCF.