We have studied the repopulation of the T-cell compartment in 27 patients transplanted with bone marrow from an (HLA)-identical sibling. Significant differences were found between recipients of unmanipulated and T-cell depleted grafts. Analysis of the T cells by a method based on amplification of minisatellite DNA regions showed that without depletion > 99.9% of the clones responding to a mitogenic stimulus after transplantation were of donor origin. In contrast, when the graft had been depleted with Campath-1M plus complement, a significant part of the T cells cloned during the first weeks after transplantation comprised of recipient T cells that had survived the preconditioning. This mixed population of low numbers donor and recipient T cells (19 +/- 31/mm3 at day 14) expanded rapidly (predominantly CD8+ T cells) during the first 2 months, without a significant change of the ratio of recipient/donor T cells. In 11 of 17 evaluable patients a late wave ( > 9 months) of donor T cells occurred. As a consequence, T-cell chimerism changed in favor of donor T cells and the CD4/CD8 ratio that had been reversed ( < 0.5) after the first expansion, normalized (1.5 +/- 0.51). Analysis of the T-cell receptor repertoire showed that in recipients of a T-cell depleted graft, the recipient as well as the donor T cells that repopulated the peripheral T-cell pool during the first month, were the progeny of a limited number of precursors. Because without depletion, when larger numbers of donor T cells had been cotransfused with the marrow, the repertoire was much more diverse, these data show that immediately after transplantation, the peripheral pool is repopulated primarily through expansion of circulating T cells.