The influence of mixed hematopoietic chimerism (MC) after allogeneic bone marrow transplantation remains unknown. Increasingly sensitive detection methods have shown that MC occurs frequently. We report a highly sensitive novel method to assess MC based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Simple dinucleotide repeat sequences called microsatellites have been found to vary in their repeat number between individuals. We use this variation to type donor-recipient pairs following allogeneic BMT. A panel of seven microsatellites was used to distinguish between donor and recipient cells of 32 transplants. Informative microsatellites were subsequently used to assess MC after BMT in this group of patients. Seventeen of the 32 transplants involved a donor of opposite sex; hence, cytogenetics and Y chromosome-specific PCR were also used as an index of chimerism in these patients. MC was detected in bone marrow aspirates and peripheral blood in 18 of 32 patients (56%) by PCR. In several cases, only stored slide material was available for analysis but PCR of microsatellites or Y chromosomal material could be used successfully to assess the origin of cells in this archival material. Cytogenetic analysis was possible in 17 patients and MC was detected in three patients. Twelve patients received T-cell-depleted marrow and showed a high incidence of MC as revealed by PCR (greater than 80%). Twenty patients received unmanipulated marrow, and while the incidence of MC was lower (44%), this was a high percentage when compared with other studies. Once MC was detected, the percentages of recipient cells tended to increase. However, in patients exhibiting MC who subsequently relapsed, this increase was relatively sudden. The overall level of recipient cells in the group of MC patients who subsequently relapsed was higher than in those who exhibited stable MC. Thus, while the occurrence of MC was not indicative of a poor prognosis per se, sudden increases in the proportions of recipient cells may be a prelude to graft rejection or relapse.