Numerous cytokines released from accessory cells have been shown to exert either stimulatory or inhibitory growth signals on burst-forming unit-erythroid (BFU-E) growth. Because of its cytokine synthesis-inhibiting effects on T cells and monocytes, interleukin-10 (IL-10) may be a potential candidate for indirectly affecting erythropoiesis. We investigated the effects of IL-10 on BFU-E growth from normal human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) using a clonogenic progenitor cell assay. The addition of recombinant human IL-10 to cultures containing recombinant human erythropoietin suppressed BFU-E growth in a dose-dependent manner (by 55.2%, range 47.3-63.3%, p < 0.01, at 10 ng/mL). In contrast, no inhibitory effect of IL-10 was seen when cultivating highly enriched CD34+ cells. BFU-E growth from PBMC also was markedly suppressed in the presence of a neutralizing anti-granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) antibody (by 48.7%, range 32.9-61.2% inhibition,p < 0.01), but not by neutralizing antibodies against granulocyte colony-stimulating factor and interleukin-3. This suggests a stimulatory role of endogenously released GM-CSF on BFU-E formation. Also, the addition of exogenous GM-CSF completely restored IL-10-induced suppression of BFU-E growth. To determine the cellular source of GM-CSF production, we analyzed GM-CSF levels in suspension cultures containing PBMC that were either depleted of monocytes or T cells. Monocyte-depleted PBMC showed spontaneous production of increasing amounts of GM-CSF on days 3, 5, and 7, respectively, which could be suppressed by IL-10, whereas GM-CSF levels did not increase in cultures containing T-cell-depleted PBMC. Our data indicate that IL-10 inhibits the growth of erythroid progenitor cells in vitro, most likely by suppression of endogenous GM-CSF production from T cells.