Megakaryocytic (Mk) cell maturation involves polyploidisation, and the number of platelets produced increases with Mk DNA content. Ploidy levels in cultured human MK cells are much lower than those observed in vivo. This study demonstrated that adding the water-soluble vitamin nicotinamide (NIC) to mobilised peripheral blood CD34+ cells cultured with thrombopoietin (Tpo) more than doubled the percentage of high-ploidy (> or = 8N) MK cells. This was observed regardless of donor-dependent differences in Mk differentiation. Furthermore, MK cells in cultures with NIC were larger, had more highly lobated nuclei, reached a maximum DNA content of 64N (vs. 16N with Tpo alone), and exhibited more frequent and more elaborate cytoplasmic extensions. NIC also increased the ploidy of cultured primary murine MK cells and a cell line model (CHRF-288) of Mk differentiation. However, NIC did not alter Mk commitment, apoptosis, or the time at which endomitosis was initiated. Despite the dramatic phenotypic differences observed with NIC addition, gene expression microarray analysis revealed similar overall transcriptional patterns in primary human Mk cultures with or without NIC, indicating that NIC did not disrupt the normal Mk transcriptional program. Elucidating the mechanisms by which NIC increases Mk maturation could lead to advances in the treatment of Mk and platelet disorders.