We have examined the effects of 10 different growth factors either alone or in combination on colony-forming unit-spleen (CFU-S) and repopulating stem cell survival in vitro. Either interleukin-3 (IL-3), granulocyte-colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF), or IL-4 alone support CFU-S in vitro. The effects of IL-3 or G-CSF could be neutralized by adding antibodies against IL-3 or G-CSF, respectively. However, the effects of IL-4 could be neutralized with antibodies to IL-4 as well as with antibodies to IL-3 and G-CSF. The combinations of IL-3 and IL-6, IL-3 and G-CSF, IL-3 and IL-1 alpha, IL-3 and granulocyte-macrophage CSF (GM-CSF), and IL-4 and IL-6 acted synergistically to increase CFU-S number. Addition of macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha (MIP-1 alpha) to IL-3 and IL-6 inhibited the increase in CFU-S number. Repopulating stem cell function was measured in a competitive repopulation assay. Either IL-3 or IL-4 alone could preserve stem cell function in vitro. The combinations of IL-3 and IL-6, and IL-3 and G- CSF increased stem cell function approximately twofold. The combinations of IL-3 + G-CSF + IL-6, and IL-4 and IL-6 (both of which increased CFU-S number fivefold to 10-fold) decreased stem cell function approximately fourfold. These results demonstrate that certain combinations of growth factors can increase CFU-S number at the expense of stem cell function.