Fibroblast growth factor-4 (FGF-4), a highly mitogenic protein encoded by the k-fgf/hst oncogene, stimulates the growth of a variety of cells of mesenchymal and neuroectodermal origin. Addition of FGF-4 to human long-term bone marrow cultures increased both the cell density of the stromal layer and the number of hematopoietic colony forming cells in the cultures in a dose-dependent manner. Hematopoiesis in the stromal layer persisted for up to 8 months. Erythropoiesis was maintained for up to 4 weeks, but granulocytes were the predominant nonadherent cell type. Cultures treated with FGF had increased numbers of monocytes compared with control cultures and some CD14+, CD45+ monocytes could still be detected after 8 months of continuous culture. The addition of the growth factor increased the rate of growth of the stromal layer and appeared to delay its senescence. Subcultures made in the presence of FGF-4 had up to 10-fold increases in plating efficiency and grew as relatively uniform monolayers. These subcultures retained the capacity to support hematopoiesis for several months, while untreated subcultures, made without FGF-4, grew erratically and generally lost the capacity to support hematopoiesis within 4 to 6 weeks. The improved growth after subculture greatly enhanced the reliability of limit- dilution assays of multipotential hematopoietic stem cells that use stromal cell monolayers. The primary effect of FGF-4 appeared to be on the stromal cells of the long-term bone marrow cultures, but a direct effect on hematopoietic progenitors could not be ruled out.