The pathogenesis of the hematologic abnormalities commonly observed in patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is incompletely understood. We report here that in vitro growth of myeloid (CFU-GM) and erythroid (BFU-E) progenitor cells from six patients with AIDS was not significantly different from that of normal human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) seronegative donors: 25.3 +/- 5 CFU-GM per 5 x 10(4) low density marrow cells and 33.5 +/- 5 BFU-E were observed in AIDS patients versus 32.7 +/- 5 CFU-GM and 42.1 +/- 5 BFU-E in controls. Furthermore, no HIV-DNA in individual colonies (CFU-GM and BFU-E) could be detected using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique, although HIV-1 DNA was detected in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from the same patients. Similarly, normal bone marrow cells exposed in vitro to different isolates of HIV or recombinant purified HIV-1 envelope glycoprotein (gp) 120 did not exhibit any difference in growth of CFU-GM or BFU-E as compared with mock exposed bone marrow cells. HIV- 1 DNA could not be detected by the PCR technique in individual colonies derived from HIV exposed marrow. This study suggests that committed myeloid and erythroid progenitors from AIDS patients are responsive to hematopoietic growth factors in vitro and do not appear to contain HIV- 1 DNA. Also, HIV or its envelope gp did not alter the growth of hematopoietic progenitor cells in vitro. No evidence of HIV infection of progenitor cells could be demonstrated. Impaired hematopoiesis in patients with AIDS may not be related to direct effects of HIV on committed progenitor cells.