Efficient gene delivery to multipotential hematopoietic stem cells would greatly facilitate the development of effective gene therapy for certain hematopoietic disorders. We have recently described a rapid multiparameter sorting procedure for significantly enriching stem cells with competitive long-term lymphomyeloid repopulating ability (CRU) from 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)-treated mouse bone marrow. The sorted cells have now been tested as targets for retrovirus-mediated delivery of a marker gene, NeoR. They were cocultured for 4 days with fibroblasts producing a high titer of retrovirus in medium containing combinations of the hematopoietic growth factors interleukin-3 (IL-3), IL-6, c-kit ligand (KL), and leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) and then injected into lethally irradiated recipients, together with sufficient “compromised” bone marrow cells to provide short-term support. Over 80% of the transplanted mice displayed high levels (> or = 20%) of donor- derived leukocytes when analyzed 4 to 6 months later. Proviral DNA was detected in 87% of these animals and, in half of them, the majority of the hematopoietic cells were marked. Thus, infection of the stem cells was most effective. The tissue and cellular distribution of greater than 100 unique clones in 55 mice showed that most sorted stem cells had lymphoid as well as myeloid repopulating potential. Secondary transplantation provided strong evidence for infection of very primitive stem cells because, in several instances, different secondary recipients displayed in their marrow, spleen, thymus and day 14 spleen colony-forming cells the same proviral integration pattern as the primary recipient. Neither primary engraftment nor marking efficiency varied for stem cells cultured in IL-3 + IL-6, IL-3 + IL-6 + KL, IL-3 + IL-6 + LIF, or all four factors, but those cultured in IL-3 + IL-6 + LIF appeared to have lower secondary engraftment potential. Provirus expression was detected in 72% of the strongly marked mice, albeit often at low levels. Highly efficient retroviral marking of purified lymphomyeloid repopulating stem cells should enhance studies of stem cell biology and facilitate analysis of genes controlling hematopoietic differentiation and transformation.