To understand the mechanisms controlling hematopoietic engraftment in untreated, normal recipients, we investigated the fate of parental, donor hematopoietic stem cells after apparent graft failures in unconditioned F1 hybrid recipient mice. By administering an anti-host H- 2K monoclonal antibody, which targets host cells but spares the donor, we found that chimerism could be induced by delayed conditioning in animals with apparent graft failure. Engraftment kinetics in the host were followed by typing individual colony forming unit-- granulocyte/macrophage (CFU-GM) colonies for their origin and showed that parental cells, which were otherwise virtually absent, become promptly detectable within the marrow cavity after antibody administration. Marrow transfers to secondary hosts suggested that parental stem cells were present in the marrow of the untreated recipients. These findings establish that the elimination of all parental cells cannot account for the absence of peripheral blood chimerism in the unconditioned F1 hybrid recipient. Thus, viable and functional donor stem cells, which remain quiescent in the host marrow, can be activated by a selective conditioning regimen and can rescue an apparent graft failure. The selective activation in vivo of marked stem cells in an unirradiated microenvironment may be a useful system to study the regulation of cellular proliferation within the marrow cavity.