We have examined the effects of a stromal cell-derived cytokine designated interleukin 11 (IL-11) on the proliferation of murine hemopoietic progenitors in methylcellulose culture. COS cell-conditioned medium containing IL-11 supported formation of granulocyte/macrophage colonies and a small number of multilineage colonies including blast cell colonies in cultures of marrow cells from normal mice. When tested with marrow cells harvested 2 days after injection of 5-fluorouracil at 150 mg/kg, IL-11 enhanced interleukin 3-dependent colony formation, whereas IL-11 alone supported only scant colony formation. Serial observations (mapping studies) of cultures of post-5-fluorouracil spleen cells indicated that the mechanism of the synergistic effect of IL-11 is to shorten the dormant period of stem cells, an effect very similar to that of interleukin 6. When pooled blast cells were plated into medium containing IL-11 and erythropoietin, only macrophage colonies were observed. Thus, IL-11 can directly support the proliferation of committed macrophage progenitors and, and like interleukin 6 and granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, act synergistically with interleukin 3 to shorten the Go period of early progenitors.