There is evidence that anaemia is associated with aluminium (Al). We have already reported on the sensitivity to Al, showed by erythroid cell populations of animals chronically exposed to the metal. In order to investigate whether Al could also affect human cells, experiments were carried out both on immature and mature human erythroid cells. Erythroid progenitors (CFU-E, colony-forming units-erythroid) concentrated from human peripheral blood were cultured in an Al-rich medium under erythropoietin stimulation and their development analysed. Human peripheral erythrocytes were aged in the presence of Al. Cells were examined using scanning electron microscopy, and membrane proteins analysed by polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis with sodium dodecyl sulphate and immunoblotting. The development of the Al-treated progenitors was 8750/6600-9200 CFU-E/106 cells, a significantly lower median value (P<0.05) than that showed by non-treated cells (12 300/11 200-20 700 CFU-E/106 cells). Erythrocyte morphological changes were induced by Al during the in vitro ageing. The cells lost their typical biconcave shape, turning into acanthocytes and stomatocytes. Simultaneously, an increased membrane protein breakdown compatible with band 3 degradation was detected. Besides, Al was found within the cells and attached to the membrane. The present in vitro results suggest that Al may disturb human erythropoiesis through combined effects on mature erythrocytes and cellular metabolism in late erythroid progenitors.