The FLT3/FLK2 receptor tyrosine kinase is closely related to two receptors, c-Kit and c-Fms, which function with their respective ligands, Kit ligand and macrophage colony-stimulating factor to control differentiation of haematopoietic and non-haematopoietic cells. FLT3/FLK2 is thought to be present on haematopoietic stem cells and found in brain, placenta and testis. We have purified to homogeneity and partially sequenced a soluble form of the FLT3/FLK2 ligand produced by mouse thymic stromal cells. We isolated several mouse and human complementary DNAs that encode polypeptides with identical N termini and different C termini. Some variants contain hydrophobic transmembrane segments, suggesting that processing may be required to release soluble ligand. The purified ligand enhances the response of mouse stem cells and a primitive human progenitor cell population to other growth factors such as interleukins IL-3 and IL-6 and to granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, and also stimulates fetal thymocytes.