Long-term follow-up data are presented on changes in peripheral blood counts and Hb requirements of 11 patients with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) during iron chelation treatment with desferrioxamine for up to 60 months. The erythroid marrow activity was indirectly evaluated by repeated determinations of the serum transferrin receptor concentration. The efficacy of iron chelation was evaluated by repeated quantitative determination of the liver iron concentration by magnetic resonance imaging. Reduction in the Hb requirement ( > or = 50%) was seen in 7/11 (64%) patients. Five patients (46%) became blood transfusion independent. Platelet counts increased in 7/11 (64%) patients and the neutrophil counts in 7/9 (78%) evaluable patients. All patients in whom iron chelation was highly effective showed improvement of erythropoietic output accompanied by an increase in the serum transferrin receptor concentration. It is concluded that reduction in cytopenia in MDS patients may be accomplished by treatment with desferrioxamine, if the iron chelation is efficient and the patients are treated for a sufficiently long period of time. Exactly how treatment with desferrioxamine works remains a challenge for further investigation.