BACKGROUND: Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) is extensively used to improve neutrophil count during anti-cancer chemotherapy. We investigated the effects of G-CSF on several leukemic cell lines and screened for the expression of the G-CSF receptor (G-CSFR) in various malignant cells. METHODS: We examined the effects of the most commonly used commercial forms of G-CSF (glycosylated lenograstim and nonglycosylated filgrastim) on various leukemic cell lines by flow cytometry. Moreover, we screened for the expression of G-CSFR mRNA in 38 solid tumor cell lines by using real-time PCR. RESULTS: G-CSF stimulated proliferation (40-80% increase in proliferation in treated cells as compared to that in control cells) in 3 leukemic cell lines and induced differentiation of AML1/ETO+ leukemic cells. Among the 38 solid tumor cell lines, 5 cell lines (hepatoblastoma, 2 breast carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma of the larynx, and melanoma cell lines) showed G-CSFR mRNA expression. CONCLUSION: The results of the present study show that therapeutic G-CSF might stimulate the proliferation and differentiation of malignant cells with G-CSFR expression, suggesting that prescreening for G-CSFR expression in primary tumor cells may be necessary before using G-CSF for treatment.