Friend murine erythroleukemia cells underwent apparently normal erythropoiesis when treated with dimethyl sulfoxide. One of the earliest events associated with this induction was a decrease in ouabain sensitive 86Rb+ uptake, an assay of the plasma membrane Na,K(ATPase). Ammonium vanadate (10 microM) blocked differentiation of these cells without affecting cell viability. Vanadium was taken up by Friend cells and prevented the dimethyl sulfoxide-induced decrease in ouabain sensitive 86Rb+ uptake. Vanadate reactivated 86Rb+ transport previously inhibited by dimethyl sulfoxide treatment but had no affect on 86Rb+ transport in untreated cells. These results suggest an essential role for the (Na,K)ATPase in cell differentiation.