In this study, we have characterized the early steps of hematopoiesis during embryonic stem cell differentiation. The immunophenotype of hematopoietic progenitor cells derived from murine embryonic stem cells was determined using a panel of monoclonal antibodies specific for hematopoietic differentiation antigens. Surprisingly, the CD41 antigen (alphaIIb integrin, platelet GPIIb), essentially considered to be restricted to megakaryocytes, was found on a large proportion of cells within embryoid bodies although very few megakaryocytes were detected. In clonogenic assays, more than 80% of all progenitors (megakaryocytic, granulo-macrophagic, erythroid and pluripotent) derived from embryoid bodies expressed the CD41 antigen. CD41 was the most reliable marker of early steps of hematopoiesis. However, CD41 remained a differentiation marker because some CD41(-) cells from embryoid bodies converted to CD41(+) hematopoietic progenitors, whereas the inverse switch was not observed. Immunoprecipitation and western blot analysis confirmed that CD41 was present in cells from embryoid bodies associated with CD61 (beta3 integrin, platelet GPIIIa) in a complex. Analysis of CD41 expression during ontogeny revealed that most yolk sac and aorta-gonad-mesonephros hematopoietic progenitor cells were also CD41(+), whereas only a minority of bone marrow and fetal liver hematopoietic progenitors expressed this antigen. Differences in CD34 expression were also observed: hematopoietic progenitor cells from embryoid bodies, yolk sac and aorta-gonad-mesonephros displayed variable levels of CD34, whereas more than 90% of fetal liver and bone marrow progenitor cells were CD34(+). Thus, these results demonstrate that expression of CD41 is associated with early stages of hematopoiesis and is highly regulated during hematopoietic development. Further studies concerning the adhesive properties of hematopoietic cells are required to assess the biological significance of these developmental changes.