Inhibitors of erythropoiesis have been found in the blood of uremic patients but their nature has not been identified. These patients have excess blood levels of parathyroid hormone (PTH) and it is possible that PTH inhibits erythropoiesis. The present study was undertaken to examine the effect of intact PTH molecules and some of its fragments on human peripheral blood and mouse bone marrow burst-forming units-erythroid (BFU-E), on mouse bone marrow erythroid colony-forming unit (CFU-E), and granulocyte macrophage progenitors (CFU-GM), and evaluate the interaction between PTH and erythropoietin (Ep) on human BFU-E. Intact PTH (1-84 bPTH) in concentrations (7.5-30 U/ml) comparable to those found in blood of uremic patients produced marked and significant (P < 0.01) inhibition of BFU-E and mouse marrow GFU-GM, but not of mouse marrow CFU-E. Inactivation of 1-84 bPTH abolished its action on erythropoiesis. Increasing the concentration of Ep in the media from 0.67 to 1.9 U/ml overcame the inhibitory effect of 1-84 bPTH on BFU-E. The N-terminal fragment of PTH (1-34 bPTh) and 53-84 hPTH had no effect on BFU-E. The results demonstrate that (a) either the intact PTH molecule or a C-terminal fragment(s) bigger than 53-84 moiety exerts the inhibitory effect on erythropoiesis, and (b) adequate amounts of Ep can overcome this action of PTH. The data provide one possible pathway for the participation of excess PTH in the genesis of the anemia of uremia.