The effect of cellular interactions in the in vitro assay of myeloid progenitor cells in peripheral blood (PB CFU-C) was investigated. Ficoll-Paque-separated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PB MNC) from 7 healthy subjects were cultured at cell concentrations from 10 to 0.625 X 10(5) MNC/plate in doubling dilutions. The number of colonies per 10(6) lymphocytes plated (corrected colony count, CC) was significantly higher when 2.5 X 10(5) or less PB MNC were cultured than when 5 or 10 X 10(5) cells were cultured. This decrease in CC when large numbers of cells were cultured was not present when the nonadherent cells only were cultured. The inhibition was reproduced when adherent cells were added back to the nonadherent cells. The inhibition appeared to be proportional to the number of monocytes present. A model depicting the role of monocytes in the PB CFU-C assay system is presented. The increased understanding of cellular interaction represents an important step towards the standardization of the PB CFU-C assay.