Murine embryonic stem (ES) cells are pluripotent cell lines established directly from the early embryo which can contribute differentiated progeny to all adult tissues, including the germ-cell lineage, after re-incorporation into the normal embryo. They provide both a cellular vector for the generation of transgenic animals and a useful system for the identification of polypeptide factors controlling differentiation processes in early development. In particular, medium conditioned by Buffalo rat liver cells contains a polypeptide factor, ES cell differentiation inhibitory activity (DIA), which specifically suppresses the spontaneous differentiation of ES cells in vitro, thereby permitting their growth as homogeneous stem cell populations in the absence of heterologous feeder cells. ES cell pluripotentiality, including the ability to give rise to functional gametes, is preserved after prolonged culture in Buffalo rat liver media as a source of DIA. Here, we report that purified DIA is related in structure and function to the recently identified hematopoietic regulatory factors human interleukin for DA cells and leukaemia inhibitory factor. DIA and human interleukin DA/leukaemia inhibitory factor have thus been identified as related multifunctional regulatory factors with distinct biological activities in both early embryonic and hematopoietic stem cell systems.