Irradiated C57BL/6 (H-2b) recipients of T-cell-depleted (TCD) BALB/c (H- 2d) bone marrow (BM) and recombinant interleukin-1 alpha (IL-1 alpha) (1 microgram/d) had a significantly (P less than or equal to .006) higher 100-day actuarial survival rate, accelerated hematopoietic recovery, and higher levels of alloengraftment than a group of transplanted control mice treated identically, but given phosphate- buffered saline (PBS). To elucidate the mechanisms involved with IL-1 alpha-induced promotion of alloengraftment and hematopoietic recovery, we performed sequential splenic FACS studies on transplanted mice and secondary transfer studies in syngeneic mice given IL-1 alpha or PBS. Splenic phenotyping showed that recipients of IL-1 alpha had a higher proportion of donor granulocytes (52% v 19%) as compared with PBS controls as early as 7 days after bone marrow transplantation (BMT). On day 11 post-BMT, recipients of IL-1 alpha had a more than fourfold increase in splenocyte number, which included a higher percentage (90% v 59%) of donor cells, especially donor granulocytes (52% vs 32%), and a sevenfold increase in donor T cells as compared with controls. Host T- cell numbers were not affected. Taken together, these data suggest that IL-1 alpha stimulated bipotential (myeloid and lymphoid) donor cell engraftment. In a syngeneic BMT system, administration of IL-1 alpha resulted in a higher incidence of survival when recipients were transplanted with BM cells, indicating that IL-1 alpha administration probably either expanded or potentiated engraftment of a committed progenitor cell pool. Secondary transfer experiments using marrow from IL-1 alpha-treated mice showed that the number of day 12 colony-forming unit-spleen (CFU-S) cells was unaltered compared with untreated control mice, suggesting that more primitive, albeit committed, hematopoietic progenitor cells were not affected. We also examined the potential additive effects of IL-1 alpha and granulocyte-macrophage colony- stimulating factor (GM-CSF) administered in combination (for 14 days). Mice receiving a suboptimal amount of IL-1 alpha along with GM-CSF had significantly higher levels of donor alloengraftment (92%) with superior hematopoietic recovery, as compared with mice receiving either IL-1 alpha (57%) or GM-CSF (18%) alone.