GATA transcription factors interact with FOG proteins to regulate tissue development by activating and repressing transcription. FOG-1 (ZFPM1), a co-factor for the haematopoietic factor GATA-1, binds to the NuRD co-repressor complex through a conserved N-terminal motif. Surprisingly, we detected NuRD components at both repressed and active GATA-1/FOG-1 target genes in vivo. In addition, while NuRD is required for transcriptional repression in certain contexts, we show a direct requirement of NuRD also for FOG-1-dependent transcriptional activation. Mice in which the FOG-1/NuRD interaction is disrupted display defects similar to germline mutations in the Gata1 and Fog1 genes, including anaemia and macrothrombocytopaenia. Gene expression analysis in primary mutant erythroid cells and megakaryocytes (MKs) revealed an essential function for NuRD during both the repression and activation of select GATA-1/FOG-1 target genes. These results show that NuRD is a critical co-factor for FOG-1 and underscore the versatile use of NuRD by lineage-specific transcription factors to activate and repress gene transcription in the appropriate cellular and genetic context. © 2010 European Molecular Biology Organization.