The cytokine granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) is synthesized in the female reproductive tract and has been implicated in the growth and development of the preimplantation embryo in rodent and livestock species. To examine the effect of GM-CSF on human embryo development in vitro, surplus frozen 2-4-cell embryos were cultured in media supplemented with 2 ng/ml recombinant human GM-CSF. The addition of cytokine increased the proportion of embryos that developed to the blastocyst stage from 30 to 76%. The developmental competence of these blastocysts, as assessed by hatching and attachment to extracellular matrix-coated culture dishes, was also improved by GM-CSF. The period in culture required for 50% of the total number of blastocysts to form was reduced by 14 h, and blastocysts grown in GM-CSF were found to contain approximately 35% more cells, due primarily to an increase in the size of the inner cell mass. The beneficial effect of GM-CSF was exerted in each of two sequential media systems (IVF-50/S2 and G1. 2/G2.2) and was independent of the formulation of recombinant cytokine that was used. These data indicate that GM-CSF may have a physiological role in promoting the development of the human embryo as it traverses the reproductive tract in vivo, and suggest that addition of this cytokine to embryo culture media may improve the yield of implantation-competent blastocysts in human in-vitro fertilization programmes.