Post 5-fluorouracil-treated murine bone marrow cells infected with a recombinant retrovirus (murine stem cell virus-interleukin 11 [MSCV-IL-11]) bearing a human IL-11 gene were transplanted into lethally irradiated syngeneic mice. Analysis of proviral integration sites in DNA prepared from hematopoietic tissues and purified cell populations of long-term reconstituted primary and secondary recipients demonstrated polyclonal engraftment by multipotential stem cells. High levels (100-1,500 U/ml) of IL-11 were detected in the plasma of the MSCV-IL-11 mice. Systemic effects of chronic IL-11 exposure included loss of body fat, thymus atrophy, some alterations in plasma protein levels, frequent inflammation of the eyelids, and often a hyperactive state. A sustained rise in peripheral platelet levels (approximately 1.5-fold) was seen throughout the observation period (4-17 wk). No changes were observed in the total number of circulating leukocytes in the majority of the transplanted animals (including 10 primary and 18 secondary recipients) despite a > 20-fold elevation in myeloid progenitor cell content in the spleen. The exceptions were members of one transplant pedigree which presented with myeloid leukemia during the secondary transplant phase. A clonal origin of the disease was determined, with significant expansion of the MSCV-IL-11-marked clone having occurred in the spleen of the primary host. Culturing of leukemic spleen cells from a quaternary recipient led to the establishment of a permanent cell line (denoted PGMD1). IL-11-producing PGMD1 myeloid leukemic cells are dependent on IL-3 for continuous growth in vitro and they differentiate into granulocytes and macrophages in response to granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor. The inability of autogenously produced IL-11 to support autonomous growth of PGMD1 cells argues against a mechanism of transformation involving a classical autocrine loop.