Corticosteroids have the ability to suppress the production of growth factors and cytokines and are thus implicated in the negative regulation of hematopoiesis. We have shown that the corticosteroids, prednisolone and dexamethasone, were able to effectively protect progenitor cells in four strains of mice against cell-cycle-specific antimetabolic chemotherapy agents. The highest levels of protection against 5-fluorouracil (FU; 200 mg/kg) were achieved when two or three intraperitoneal injections of dexamethasone were administered between - 7 and +3 hours at a dose of 7.5 mg/kg/injection (optimal dose) or by continuous infusion between -4 and +20 hours. This protective effect is manifested as an increase in the number of high proliferative potential colony-forming cells that survive in the bone marrow 3 days after treatment with FU from between 0.5% and 11% to between 10% and 34% of normal. The bone marrow progenitors and blood cell numbers return to normal from 3 to 5 days and 1 to 2 days earlier, respectively. Less dexamethasone than prednisolone is required to give an equivalent protective effect, which is consistent with their anti-inflammatory potency. These findings are further evidence of the negative regulatory role played by corticosteroids, and indicate that the treatment schedules of corticosteroids during cancer therapy need to be reexamined to obtain the maximum benefit from their use.