The blast cells of acute myeloblastic leukemia (AML) may be considered as a renewal population, maintained by blast stem cells capable of both self-renewal and the generation of progeny with reduced or absent proliferative potential. Blast progenitor renewal is manifested in suspension culture by an exponential increase in clonogenic cells. This growth requires that two conditions be met: first, the cultures must contain growth factors in media conditioned either by phytohemagglutinin (PHA)-stimulated mononuclear leukocytes (PHA-LCM), or by cells of the continuous bladder carcinoma line HTB9 (HTB9-CM). Second, the cell density must be maintained at 10(6) blasts/ml; this may be achieved by adding irradiated cells to smaller numbers of intact blasts. We are concerned with the mechanism of the feeding function. We present evidence that (a) cell-cell contact is required. (b) Blasts are heterogeneous in respect to their capacity to support growth. (c) Fractions containing membranes from blast cells will substitute for intact cells in promoting the generation of new blast progenitors in culture. (d) This membrane function may be specific for AML blasts, since membranes from blasts of lymphoblastic leukemia or normal marrow cells were inactive.