Mitogen-activated murine T lymphocytes or T cell hybridomas produce an activity (megakaryocyte [Mk] potentiator activity) that enhances the in vitro growth and development of Mk colonies. This activity was found in optimal concentrations (2.5%) in T cell hybridoma-conditioned medium, and was also produced by feeder layers of concanavalin A-activated T cells. A subpopulation of murine Mk progenitor cells (colony-forming units; CFU-Mk) bears the Ia antigen. Separate experiments indicated that T cell products stimulate CFU-Mk by increasing their basal levels of Ia expression as well as the frequency of cells actively synthesizing DNA. The hypothesis that the expression of this antigen was related to the cell cycle status of these progenitor cells was confirmed in studies that indicated that ablation of actively cycling cells in vivo abrogated the cytotoxic effects of anti-Ia monoclonal antibodies. The interdependence of T cell lymphokine regulation of both Ia expression and cell cycle status was also seen in in vitro experiments in which Ia+ progenitor cells were eliminated by complement-dependent cytotoxicity. The removal of Ia+ cells prevented 5-hydroxyurea-mediated inhibition of cells in S phase. We hypothesize that immune modulation of megakaryocytopoiesis occurs via soluble T cell products that augment Mk differentiation. Further, the mechanism of immune recognition/modulation may occur via Ia antigens present on the surface of these progenitor cells.