In myelodysplasias and acute myeloid leukemias, abnormalities in erythroid development often parallel abnormalities in megakaryocytic development. Erythroleukemic cells in particular have been shown to possess the potential to undergo megakaryocytic differentiation in response to a variety of stimuli. Whether or not such lineage plasticity occurs as a consequence of the leukemic phenotype has not previously been addressed. In this study, highly purified primary human erythroid progenitors were subjected to stimuli known to induce megakaryocytic differentiation in erythroleukemic cells. Remarkably, the primary erythroid progenitors rapidly responded with morphological and immunophenotypic evidence of megakaryocytic differentiation, equivalent to that seen in erythroleukemic cells. Even erythroblasts expressing high levels of hemoglobin manifested partial megakaryocytic differentiation. These results indicate that the lineage plasticity observed in erythroleukemic cells reflects an intrinsic property of cells in the erythroid lineage rather than an epiphenomenon of leukemic transformation.