The Steel factor (SF) and its receptor c-Kit play a critical role for various cell types at different levels in the hematopoietic hierarchy. Whether similar or distinct signaling pathways are used upon c-Kit activation in different cell types within the hematopoietic hierarchy is not known. To study c-Kit signaling pathways in the hematopoietic system we have compared c-Kit downstream signaling events in SF-dependent hematopoietic stem cell (HSC)-like cell lines to those of mast cells. Both Erk and protein kinase B (PKB)/Akt are activated by ligand-induced activation of the c-Kit receptor in the HSC-like cell lines. Surprisingly, phosphoinositide-3 (PI-3) kinase inhibitors block not only PKB/Akt activation but also activation of Raf and Erk. SF-induced activation of Ras is not affected by inhibition of PI-3 kinase. In mast cells and other more committed hematopoietic precursors, the activation of Erk by SF is not PI-3 kinase dependent. Our results suggest that a molecular signaling switch occurs during differentiation in the hematopoietic system whereby immature hematopoietic progenitor/stem cells use a PI-3 kinase-sensitive pathway in the activation of both Erk and PKB/Akt, which is then switched upon differentiation to the more commonly described PI-3 kinase-independent mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase pathway.