The kit ligand (KL), also termed stem cell factor (SCF), is a recently discovered hematopoietic growth factor that augments response of early progenitor cells to other growth factors and supports proliferation of continuous mast cell lines. Histological studies suggest that the receptor for SCF/KL, the c-kit proto-oncogene product, is present in bone marrow megakaryocytes. We studied the effects of SCF/KL on immortalized human megakaryocytic cell lines (CMK, CMK6, and CMK11-5) and on isolated human marrow megakaryocytes. Human SCF/KL alone or in combination with the hematopoietic growth factors, interleukin-3 (IL-3), granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), and IL-6, stimulated proliferation of these megakaryocytic cell lines. SCF/KL treatment did not alter expression of gpIb, gpIIb/IIIa, LFA-1, ICAM-1, or GMP-140 in CMK cells. No effect on ploidy was observed. Furthermore, human SCF/KL induced expression of IL-1 alpha, IL-1 beta, IL-2, and IL-6 in CMK cells. In a fibrin clot system, SCF/KL modestly potentiated megakaryocyte colony formation when added alone to cultures containing CD34+, DR+ bone marrow cells. Addition of SCF/KL with IL-3 or GM-CSF to these cultures resulted in a more marked marrow megakaryocytic cells. SCF/KL may directly affect megakaryocytopoiesis, as well as secondarily modulate hematopoiesis through induction of cytokines in target cells.