There is a long-standing controversy as to whether a single bone marrow (BM)-derived cell can differentiate along both hematopoietic and stromal lineages. Both primitive hematopoietic and stromal progenitor cells in human BM express the CD34 antigen but lack expression of other surface markers, such as CD38. In this study we examined the CD34+, CD38- fraction of human fetal BM by multiparameter fluorescence- activated cell sorting (FACS) analysis and single-cell sorting. CD34+, C38- cells could be divided into HLA-DR+ and HLA-DR- fractions. After single-cell sorting, 59% of the HLA-DR+ cells formed hematopoietic colonies. In contrast, the CD34+, CD38-, HLA-DR- cells were much more heterogeneous with respect to their light scatter properties, expression of other hematopoietic markers (CD10, CD36, CD43, CD49b, CD49d, CD49e, CD50, CD62E, CD90w, CD105, and CD106), and growth properties. Single CD34+, CD38-, HLA-DR- cells sorted into individual culture wells formed either hematopoietic or stromal colonies. The presence or absence of CD50 (ICAM-3) expression distinguished hematopoietic from stromal progenitors within the CD34+, CD38-, HLA-DR- population. The CD50+ fraction had light scatter characteristics and growth properties of hematopoietic progenitor cells. In contrast, the CD50- fraction lacked hematopoietic progenitor activity but contained clonogenic stromal progenitors at a mean frequency of 5%. We tested the hypothesis that cultures derived from single cells with the CD34+, CD38- , HLA-DR- phenotype could differentiate along both a hematopoietic and stromal lineage. The cultures contained a variety of mesenchymal cell types and mononuclear cells that had the morphologic appearance of histiocytes. Immunophenotyping of cells from these cultures indicated a stromal rather than a hematopoietic origin. In addition, the growth of the histiocytic cells was independent of the presence or the absence of hematopoietic growth factors. Based on sorting more than 30,000 single cells with the CD34+, CD38-, HLA-DR- phenotype into individual culture wells, and an analysis of 864 stromal cultures initiated by single CD34+ BM cells, this study does not support the hypothesis of a single common progenitor for both hematopoietic and stromal lineages within human fetal BM.