This investigation was directed at separating long-term reconstituting (LTR) stem cells in normal murine marrow from hematopoietic precursors detectable in short-term assays in vitro and in vivo, and then at determining whether purified LTR cells could themselves form colonies in culture. To do so, it was first necessary to identify culture conditions that would induce their growth while preserving their long- term reconstituting capacity. Marrow was cultured with various cytokines in liquid suspension for 4 days, after which the surviving LTR activity was quantitated in a competitive in vivo assay. Activity was preserved near input levels with combined murine c-kit ligand (KL), interleukin-1 (IL-1), IL-6, and IL-11. When the cultures also included tritiated or unlabeled thymidine, LTR potential was eliminated, indicating that essentially all LTR cells were induced into cell cycle with these cytokines. To purify them, marrow was sorted on the basis of Ly6A expression and Rhodamine 123 retention. The Ly6AhiRh123ls fraction contained 85% of total recovered LTR activity but only 1% of the recovered cells measured by multilineage colony formation in spleens or in vitro. This fraction was cultured in methyl cellulose with KL, IL-1, IL-6, and IL-11 for 4 to 6 days, after which colonies were isolated and injected into mice. High levels of permanent reconstitution were achievable in sublethally irradiated W41/W41 mice after the injection of a single reconstituting unit, and limiting dilution analysis estimated the frequency of multilineage LTR at 1 in 11,200 unpurified adult marrow cells. In either lethally irradiated normal or sublethally irradiated W41/W41 mice, 1-year lymphomyeloid reconstitutions were obtained from 1 in 65 to 84 colonies of 2 to 16 dispersed cells, but not from larger colonies or those with clumped cells. The results establish that resting marrow LTR cells can be separated from almost all of the more advanced clonogenic cells that are still pluripotential, can be induced to cycle in culture by defined cytokines with preservation of their reconstituting potential, and can be manipulated and assayed efficiently at single-cell and colony levels.