Hemopoietic progenitor cells express clustered homeobox (Hox) genes in a pattern characteristic of their lineage and stage of differentiation. In general, HOX expression tends to be higher in more primitive and lower in lineage-committed cells. These trends have led to the hypothesis that self-renewal of hemopoietic stem/progenitor cells is HOX-dependent and that dysregulated HOX expression underlies maintenance of the leukemia-initiating cell. Gene expression profile studies support this hypothesis and specifically highlight the importance of the HOXA cluster in hemopoiesis and leukemogenesis. Within this cluster HOXA6 and HOXA9 are highly expressed in patients with acute myeloid leukemia and form part of the "Hox code" identified in murine models of this disease. We have examined endogenous expression of Hoxa6 and Hoxa9 in purified primary progenitors as well as four growth factor-dependent cell lines FDCP-Mix, EML, 32Dcl3, and Ba/F3, representative of early multipotential and later committed precursor cells respectively. Hoxa6 was consistently higher expressed than Hoxa9, preferentially expressed in primitive cells and was both growth-factor and cell-cycle regulated. Enforced overexpression of HOXA6 or HOXA9 in FDCP-Mix resulted in increased proliferation and colony formation but had negligible effect on differentiation. In both FDCP-Mix and the more committed Ba/F3 precursor cells overexpression of HOXA6 potentiated factor-independent proliferation. These findings demonstrate that Hoxa6 is directly involved in fundamental processes of hemopoietic progenitor cell development.