The polyamine spermine has been reported to be the inhibitor of in vitro erythropoiesis present in uremic serum. We have employed a panel of hematopoietic colony-forming assays to evaluate the specificity of the inhibitory activity. Spermine and its precursor spermidine when added to culture inhibited mouse and human erythroid (CFU-E and BFU-E), granulocyte-macrophage, and megakaryocyte colony growth in a non-specific, dose-dependent fashion. Erythroid and non-erythroid colony growth were equally sensitive to spermine- and spermidine-induced inhibition. Increasing concentrations in culture of erythropoietin and mitogen-stimulated leukocyte-conditioned medium, a source of colony-stimulating activity, failed to overcome the in vitro inhibition. Although anemia is characteristic of chronic renal failure (CRF), leukopenia and thrombocytopenia are not. Therefore, we conclude that the non-specific inhibitory activity of spermine and spermidine, as defined by in vitro colony assays, is either of no pathophysiologic significance in the anemia of CRF, or else there are unrecognized repair mechanisms in vivo which maintain granulopoiesis and thrombopoiesis at normal levels.