We have investigated the requirement for whole body irradiation (WBI) to achieve engraftment of syngeneic pluripotent hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs). Recipient B6 (H-2b; Ly-5.2) mice received various doses of WBI (0 to 3.0 Gy) and were reconstituted with 1.5 x 10(7) T-cell-depleted (TCD) bone marrow cells (BMCs) from congenic Ly-5.1 donors. Using anti-Ly-5.1 and anti-Ly-5.2 monoclonal antibodies and flow cytometry, the origins of lymphoid and myeloid cells reconstituting the animals were observed over time. Chimerism was at least initially detectable in all groups. However, between 1.5 and 3 Gy WBI was the minimum irradiation dose required to permit induction of long-term (at least 30 weeks), multilineage mixed chimerism in 100% of recipient mice. In these mice, stable reconstitution with approximately 70% to 90% donor-type lymphocytes, granulocytes, and monocytes was observed, suggesting that pluripotent HSC engraftment was achieved. About 50% of animals conditioned with 1.5 Gy WBI showed evidence for donor pluripotent HSC engraftment. Although low levels of chimerism were detected in untreated and 0.5-Gy-irradiated recipients in the early post-BM transplantation (BMT) period, donor cells disappeared completely by 12 to 20 weeks post-BMT. BM colony assays and adoptive transfers into secondary lethally irradiated recipients confirmed the absence of donor progenitors and HSCs, respectively, in the marrow of animals originally conditioned with only 0.5 Gy WBI. These results suggest that syngeneic pluripotent HSCs cannot readily engraft unless host HSCs sustain a significant level of injury, as is induced by 1.5 to 3.0 Gy WBI. We also attempted to determine the duration of the permissive period for syngeneic marrow engraftment in animals conditioned with 3 Gy WBI. Stable multilineage chimerism was uniformly established in 3-Gy-irradiated Ly-5.2 mice only when Ly-5.1 BMC were injected within 7 days of irradiation, suggesting that repair of damaged host stem cells or loss of factors stimulating engraftment may prevent syngeneic marrow engraftment after day 7.