BACKGROUND Severe hypoxic insults to the fetus and neonate are associated with the development of thrombocytopenia. The thrombocytopenia in some cases is the result of disseminated intravascular coagulation, but that mechanism fails to account for all, perhaps the majority, of cases. OBJECTIVE We hypothesized that human fetal megakaryocyte (Mk) progenitors are directly adversely affected by transient anoxia. DESIGN AND METHODS To test this, we isolated CD34pos cells from the umbilical cord blood of 10 healthy term neonates, and exposed these to 0% or 20% O2 for 24 h, with or without recombinant thrombopoietin (rTpo, 50 ng/mL). After 24 h, a portion of the CD34pos cells were harvested for flow cytometric evaluation of apoptosis. The remaining cells were cultured for an additional 10-12 days, under normoxic conditions, in a collagen-based serum-free system containing rTpo, IL-3, and IL-6. In this way, we sought to determine the effect of transient anoxia on clonogenic capacity of Mk progenitors. RESULTS Contrary to our hypothesis, anoxia did not increase either apoptosis or cell death of the CD34pos cells. The addition of rTpo was protective, with a significant decrease in apoptosis and cell death (P < 0.0001), and an increase in the number of Mk colonies cultured (P = 0.04). There was no difference between the normoxic and anoxic groups in proliferative potential of the Mk progenitor cells. CONCLUSIONS The thrombocytopenia observed in neonates following an acute hypoxic event is not likely due to a direct deleterious effect of hypoxia on Mk progenitors.