We tested the ability of recombinant human stem cell factor (SCF) to stimulate isolated marrow precursor cells to form colonies in semisolid media and to generate colony-forming cells (CFC) in liquid culture. SCF, in combination with interleukin-3 (IL-3), granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), or granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) caused CD34+ cells to form increased numbers of granulocyte-macrophage colonies (CFU-GM), and to form macroscopic erythroid burst-forming units (BFU-E) in the presence of IL-3, erythropoietin (Epo), and SCF. We tested isolated CD34+lin- cells, a minor subset of CD34+ cells that did not display antigens associated with lymphoid or myeloid lineages, and CD34+lin+ cells, which contain the vast majority of CFC, and found that the enhanced colony growth was most dramatic within the CD34+lin- population. CD34+lin- cells cultured in liquid medium containing SCF combined with IL-3, GM-CSF, or G-CSF gave rise to increased numbers of CFC. Maximal numbers of CFU-GM were generated from CD34+lin- cells after 7 to 21 days of culture, and required the presence of SCF from the initiation of liquid culture. The addition of SCF to IL-3 and/or G-CSF in cultures of single CD34+lin- cells resulted in increased numbers of CFC due to the proliferation of otherwise quiescent precursors and an increase in the numbers of CFC generated from individual precursors. These studies demonstrate the potent synergistic interaction between SCF and other hematopoietic growth factors on a highly immature population of CD34+lin- precursor cells.