Erythrocyte development in mammals depends in part upon the interaction of the glycopeptide hormone erythropoietin (EPO) with cell surface receptors on committed erythroid progenitor cells. Both this factor and an EPO receptor polypeptide previously have been cloned, yet little is presently understood concerning molecular mechanisms of receptor activation and signal transduction. To identify cytosolic receptor domains necessary for signaling, we have compared the activities of a series of deletionally mutated EPO receptor constructs by their expression in interleukin 3-dependent, myeloid FDC-P1 cells. EPO-induced growth was transduced efficiently in these cells by the full-length receptor (507 amino acids), and no measurable loss in activity resulted from the deletion of up to 111 carboxyl-terminal residues. In contrast, the deletion of 44 additional residues led to a dramatic loss (86.3% +/- 7.8%; mean +/- SD) in the ability of this receptor to mediate EPO-induced growth, thus indicating that residues between Gly-352 and Met-396 constitute a functionally critical cytosolic subdomain. Interestingly, the expression of full-length EPO receptors in FDC-P1 cells also led to a selective inhibition of normal proliferative responsiveness to the alternative hematopoietic factor granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor. Moreover, this inhibition was progressively reversed in forms of the EPO receptor in which distal cytosolic residues were sequentially deleted. These results suggest that EPO receptors normally may trans-modulate components in the pathway of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor-induced proliferation and that this down-modulation, as exerted by intact EPO receptors, may play a role in promoting erythroid commitment during myeloid blood cell development.