GATA-1, a transcription factor of the 'zinc-finger' family, is required for the development of mature erythroid cells and is also highly expressed in the megakaryocytic and mast cell lineages. The helix-loop-helix gene SCL (or TAL) is expressed in the same three hematopoietic lineages as GATA-1. To explore the role of GATA-1 and SCL in hematopoietic differentiation, we introduced a new expression vector bearing each gene into the early myeloid cell line 416B, which could originally differentiate in vivo along the megakaryocytic and granulocytic lineages. Enforced expression of SCL at high levels did not provoke differentiation, but GATA-1 induced the appearance of megakaryocytes as assessed by morphology, the presence of acetylcholinesterase and a polyploid DNA content. Although GATA-1 is thought to stimulate its own transcription in erythrocytes, expression of the endogenous gene was not increased in the megakaryocytic lines; hence GATA-1 may not be autoregulatory in this lineage. Megakaryocytic differentiation was accompanied by a marked decrease in the myeloid surface marker Mac-1. The absence of mast cell or erythroid differentiation suggests that GATA-1 may not be sufficient to provoke maturation along these lineages or that these pathways are impeded in 416B cells. These results demonstrate that a member of the GATA gene family can act as an important regulator of megakaryocytic differentiation.