We have studied stromal cell function in naive or interleukin-1 (IL-1)-stimulated (100 pg/ml) long-term marrow cultures (LTC) from 12 normal donors and 21 patients with severe aplastic anemia (AA). Conditioned media (CM) from normal LTC contained levels of erythroid burst-promoting activity (BPA) and granulocyte/macrophage (GM) colony-stimulating activity (CSA) comparable to those previously described (Migliaccio et al.,  Blood, 75:305-312). The addition of IL-1 to these cultures increased the level of CSA and, specifically, of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) released. Anti-GM-CSF antibody neutralized BPA and CSA in normal naive LTC CM but only the CSA in the CM from IL-1-stimulated LTC. Since the concentrations of GM-CSF, as detected with a specific immunoassay, did not increase after IL-1 treatment, these data suggest that IL-1-stimulated cultures contain an unidentified growth factor having BPA. CM from AA stromal cells contained levels of CSA comparable to those observed in normal stromal cell CM but had significantly lower levels of BPA. Neither anti-GM-CSF nor anti-IL-3 antibodies neutralized the BPA in AA stromal cell CM. This activity may be related to that found in the CM of IL-1-treated normal stromal cells. In nearly 50% of stromal cell cultures of AA patients, addition of IL-1 failed to increase the BPA, CSA, or G-CSF. The presence of an inhibitor in naive or IL-1-treated AA stromal cell CM was excluded by adding the CM to IL-3-stimulated cultures. These findings suggest that G-CSF and GM-CSF genes are differentially regulated in the marrow microenvironment. Furthermore, a marrow microenvironment, deficient in BPA production and, in some cases, unresponsive to IL-1 could contribute to marrow failure in some patients with AA.