Hemopoietic stem cell factor (SCF), which is the ligand for the proto-oncogene c-kit receptor (allelic with W locus) and the product of Sl locus of the mouse, has recently been cloned. The human homologue has also been cloned, and recombinant protein (human rSCF) expressed and purified to homogeneity. To determine the effect of human rSCF in the presence or absence of human rIL-3 on human bone marrow-derived mast cells and basophils, human CD34+ pluripotent progenitor cells, highly enriched (greater than 99%) from bone marrow mononuclear cells, were cultured over agarose surfaces (interphase cultures) in the presence of human rIL-3, human rIL-3 and increasing concentrations of human rSCF, or human rSCF alone. Over 3 to 4 wk, human rSCF acted synergistically with human rIL-3 at all concentrations, producing a three- to fivefold increase in total, mast cell, and basophil numbers over human rIL-3 alone when used at 100 ng/ml. The percentage of cell types in the human rIL-3 and human rIL-3 plus human rSCF cultures, however, remained the same, with basophils constituting 18 to 35% of the final cultured cells, and mast cells 3% or less of the final cell number. In the presence of human rSCF alone, the combined total percentage of mast cells and basophils was 0 to 1.0%, the majority of cells being macrophages. Mast cells cultured in human rIL-3 plus human rSCF, but not human rIL-3 alone, were berberine sulfate positive, suggesting the presence of heparin proteoglycans within granules. Electron microscopic examination of cultures supplemented with human rIL-3 and rSCF, but not human rIL-3 alone, revealed that after 3 wk in culture, mast cell granules contained tryptase and exhibited scroll, reticular, and homogeneous patterns as seen previously in CD34+/3T3 fibroblast cocultures. Thus, CD34+ cells cultured in the presence of both human rIL-3 and rSCF give rise to cultures containing increased numbers of basophils and mast cells, with the mast cells by ultrastructural studies showing evidence of maturation although the percentages of basophils and mast cells arising in these cultures remained unchanged.