The process of erythroid differentiation in mouse Friend leukemia virus transformed cells (T3-C1-2) was examined by following changes in several enzyme activities of the heme biosynthetic pathway and in heme concentration while the cells were undergoing erythroid differentiation after treatment with dimethylsulfoxide. Untreated cells on the one hand, have a limited capacity for spontaneous differentiation. On the other hand, dimethylsulfoxide(DMSO)-treated cells showed an increase in the activities of delta-aminolevulinic acid (ALA) synthetase, ALA dehydratase, uroporphyrinogen-I synthetase, ferrochelatase, and heme concentration by days 1, 1.5, 2, and 4, respectively. The increase of the heme pathway enzymes and heme concentration followed the order of these enzymes or products as they are arranged in the heme biosynthetic pathway. These changes induced by DMSO were effectively inhibited by treatment with actinomycin D, suggesting that continued RNA synthesis is required for the differentiation process. 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU) (10(-5) M) inhibited the DMSO-induced changes of the heme pathway enzymes. BrdU was most effective when it was present during the first 2 days of cell culture. It gradually lost its inhibitory effect when added after the 3rd day or later. The BrdU-mediated inhibition was completely overcome by the addition of thymidine (7 x 10(-5) M), but not by uridine (7 x 10(-5) M). All these data suggest that a sequential induction of the heme pathway enzyme takes place during erythroid differentiation of Friend leukemia cells, and that the sequential induction of the enzymes may be due to a sequential activation of genes coding for these enzyme activities.