We have used a combination of hematopoietic growth factors to induce in vitro granulocytic maturation. A fraction of marrow cells enriched for hematopoietic progenitor cells (CD34+, HLA-DR+) was isolated from normal human bone marrow by monoclonal antibody staining and fluorescence-activated cell sorting. Cells were cultured in a suspension system for 3 days in the presence of stem cell factor and interleukin-3 (IL-3), after which granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) was added. Cells were harvested daily and analyzed for phenotypic maturation by morphologic criteria, and total RNA was obtained for analysis of myeloid gene expression. Maturation was observed to progress to the late metamyelocyte and band stage over a period of 10 to 12 days. Neutrophil-specific gene expression was assayed by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Induction with G-CSF resulted in sequential expression of primary and secondary granule proteins, with asynchronous expression of primary granule proteins starting from days 1 to 5, and synchronous expression of lactoferrin and transcobalamin I (secondary granule proteins) from days 7 to 8. Interestingly, myeloperoxidase (MPO) mRNA expression was easily detected in both the freshly isolated CD34+, HLA-DR+ cells and cells at all subsequent stages of induction. This suggests that MPO mRNA is expressed very early during neutrophil development, perhaps before the development of significant numbers of phenotypically recognizable granules. This recapitulation of a program of sequential expression of primary and secondary granule protein genes suggests that in vitro marrow culture suspensions to which appropriate growth factors are added can mimic normal granulocytic maturation. This system should provide an important model for the study of neutrophil-specific gene expression.