Erythropoietin (EPO) is the principal growth factor regulating the production of circulating erythrocytes. We introduced null mutations into both Epo and the EPO receptor (EpoR) gene. Both heterozygotes appeared normal. Homozygous animals exhibited reduced primitive erythropoiesis and died around embryonic day 13, owing to failure of definitive fetal liver erythropoiesis. Both types of mutations exhibited identical phenotypes, indicating that EPO and the EPOR are crucial for definitive erythropoiesis in vivo and that no other ligands or receptors can replace them. Committed erythroid BFU-E and CFU-E progenitors were present in both homozygous fetal livers. Thus, neither EPO nor the EPOR is required for erythroid lineage commitment or for the proliferation and differentiation of BFU-E to CFU-E progenitors. EPO and the EPOR are crucial in vivo for the proliferation and survival of CFU-E progenitors and their irreversible terminal differentiation.