The effects of concentrated ultraviolet-inactivated feline leukemia virus (FeLV), the purified Mr 15,000 envelope protein (p15E) of FeLV, or the purified Mr 27,000 structural protein (p27) of FeLV on feline bone marrow mononuclear cells were studied in vitro in methylcellulose cultures. Whole virus and purified viral proteins were from the Kawakami-Theilen isolate of FeLV, which induces erythroid aplasia in cats. Bone marrow mononuclear cells from FeLV-negative young adult cats were preincubated with a medium control, ultraviolet-inactivated whole virus, or the p15E or p27 of FeLV, incubated in methylcellulose cultures for 2 days, and then observed for the formation of colony-forming units-erythroid (CFU-E) and colony-forming units-granulocyte/macrophage. The ultraviolet-inactivated Kawakami-Theilen isolate of FeLV at concentrations of 10 or 20 micrograms of viral protein/5 X 10(4) cells suppressed CFU-E to 66 to 56% of control values but had no significant effect on proliferation of colony-forming units-granulocyte/macrophage. p15E at concentrations of 0.1 to 0.2 micrograms/5 X 10(4) cells decreased CFU-E numbers to 0 to 1% of control values, whereas the same concentration of p27 did not alter CFU-E growth when compared with controls. Neither p15E nor p27 had a significant effect on growth of colony-forming units-granulocyte/macrophage. The erythrosuppressive effects of whole virus and an envelope-derived protein but not a structural core protein suggest that FeLV envelope proteins are important in the selective inhibition of erythrogenesis observed in vivo in FeLV-infected cats.