The adhesive interactions of hemopoietic cells within the bone marrow regulate their distribution, growth, and development. Fucosylated structures, of which sialyl Lewis x has been most extensively studied, are important ligands for selectins, but little is known about their function or regulation during normal hemopoietic development. We have studied alpha 1,3-fucosyltransferase activity in CD34 positive progenitors and myeloid cells at different stages of maturation isolated form normal human bone marrow, together with mRNA levels of Fuc-TIV and Fuc-TVII. Enzyme activity measured with H type 2 acceptor was present at all stages but was markedly elevated in fractions of early myeloid cells enriched for promyelocytes, correlating with the appearance of Lewis x on these cells, and thereafter fell progressively as cells matured. Activity measured with 3'sialyllactosamine was present in CD34+ cells and at all stages of maturation. Levels were low in promyelocyte/myelocyte transitional cells and increased, relative to those measured with H type 2, during the later stages of maturation; these changes correlate directly with a maturation-related increase in sialyl Lewis x expression. Using competitive quantitative RT-PCR, mRNA levels of Fuc-TIV and Fuc-TVII were similar in CD34+ cells, early myeloid and late myeloid cells. The significance of these findings in relation to fucosyltransferase activity, the synthesis of selectin ligands and differences between normal cells and leukemic cell lines is discussed.