We have investigated the expression of transferrin receptor (TfR) iron regulatory protein-1 (IRP-1) and iron regulatory protein-2 (IRP-2) in liquid suspension culture of purified hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs) induced by a growth factor stimulus to proliferation and unilineage differentiation/maturation through the erythroid, granulocytic, monocytic and megakaryocytic lineages. In initial HPC differentiation, TfR expression is induced in both erythroid and granulopoietic cultures. In late HPC differentiation (i.e. starting from day 5 of culture) and then differentiated precursor maturation, the TfR gene is highly expressed in the erythroid lineage, whereas it is sharply downmodulated in the granulopoietic, monocytopoietic and megakaryocytic series. The elevated TfR expression in erythroid cells is: (a) mediated through a high rate of TfR gene transcription; (b) modulated by intracellular iron levels; (c) mediated by TfR mRNA stabilization through the iron regulatory protein (IRP), in that IRP-1 activity is high in erythroid lineage as compared to the levels observed in other hemopoietic lineages; and (d) dependent on exogenous erythropoietin (Epo) (this is indicated by the marked TfR and IRP-1/IRP-2 downmodulation after Epo starvation). Interestingly, analysis of IRP-1 and IRP-2 expression during hemopoietic differentiation showed that: (a) IRP-1 expression was maintained during all steps of erythroid differentiation, while it was lost in the other hemopoietic lineages; (b) IRP-2 expression was observed during all stages of hemopoietic differentiation in all four lineages. However, IRP-1 and IRP-2 expression and activity are induced when monocytes, which express only low levels of IRP-1 and IRP-2, are induced to maturation to macrophages. These studies indicate that: (a) in normal erythropoiesis, the hyperexpression of TfR, starting from early erythroid HPC differentiation, is Epo-dependent and mediated via transcriptional and post-transcriptional mechanisms; (b) in the granulopoietic, monocytopoietic and megakaryocytic pathways, the TfR is first induced and then downmodulated (the latter phenomenon is mediated via transcriptional suppression of the TfR gene and IRP inactivation).