Transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) and macrophage inflammatory protein-l alpha (MIP-1 alpha) are both well-described inhibitors of committed and multipotential hematopoietic progenitors. The effect of these cytokines; on true stem cell activity in ex vivo culture systems as assayed by murine long-term repopulating activity (LTRA) has not been examined. We studied the stem cell effects of the addition of these cytokines to ex vivo cultures containing interleukin-3 (IL-3), IL- 6, and stem cell factor (SCF), using the murine competitive repopulation assay. We also tested the impact of adding an anti-TGF- beta neutralizing antibody, to ask whether abrogation of autocrine/paracrine TGF-beta may protect or enhance the survival of LTRA during ex vivo culture. TGF-beta 1 had significant suppressive effects on both short- and long-term repopulating activities, and anti- TGF-beta antibody had enhancing effects compared with control cultures containing IL-3, IL-6, and SCF alone. MIP-1 alpha had no significant effects on either short- or long-term repopulating ability. These data suggest that abrogation of TGF-beta during suspension culture may allow enhanced survival or even expansion of primitive cells ex vivo, with implications for many applications, including gene therapy.