Bone marrow cells (BMC) are involved in the pathogenesis of human cytomegalovirus++ (HCMV) infections, and the hematopoietic cells are probable sites of HCMV latency in healthy donors. In vitro studies have indicated both a direct inhibitory effect of HCMV on proliferation and differentiation of myeloid bone marrow progenitors and an impairment of bone marrow stroma cell function by HCMV. The purpose of the present study was to establish whether the suppressing effect could be limited to subsets of immature CD34+ BMC and to investigate the role of immature cell populations as possible sites of HCMV latency. CD34+ cells from healthy HCMV-seropositive and -seronegative donors were sorted according to the expression of HLA-DR (CD34+ HLA-DR+ and CD34+ HLA-DR- cells). The progenitor growth of hematopoietic progenitor cells from seronegative donors was examined by colony and single-cell assays after in vitro infection with HCMV. To determine the susceptibility of the CD34+ cells to HCMV infection in vitro and in vivo, cells of both subsets from seronegative and seropositive donors were analyzed for the presence of HCMV DNA by polymerase chain reaction. HCMV infection in vitro inhibited the interleukin-1alpha (IL-1alpha)-, IL-3-, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor-, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor-, and stem cell factor-induced proliferation in single-cell assays of CD34+ HLA-DR-cells by 34%. In contrast, the colony growth of the CD34+ HLA-DR+ subset was suppressed in cells from only 3 of the 8 donors. However, in vitro HCMV infection of the CD34+ HLA-DR+ progenitor cells inhibited the proliferation of all donors tested when hematopoietic growth factors were used individually to promote progenitor growth. In addition, the formation of burst-forming units-erythroid and colony-forming units-granulocyte, erythrocyte, monocyte, megakaryocyte was reduced 40% to 60% by HCMV in vitro. In contrast, the growth of high proliferative potential colony-forming cells was not inhibited after in vitro HCMV infection. Furthermore, HCMV DNA was detected in both CD34+ HLA-DR- and CD34+ HLA-DR+ progenitors from in vitro-infected HCMV-seronegative donors and cells from HCMV- seropositive donors. Taken together, the early progenitors defined as CD34+ HLA-DR- and CD34+ HLA-DR+ are directly suppressed in their proliferation by HCMV in vitro, and hematopoietic stem cells are also sites of HCMV latency in healthy HCMV-seropositive donors.