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Murine bone marrow Lin-, Ly6A/E+ cells have been fractionated on the basis of rhodamine123 retention into Rh123med/hi and Rh123lo subpopulations. These populations have different responses to hemopoietic growth factors with respect to in vitro colony formation. Cells from either fraction were not stimulated by only granulocyte- colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF), granulocyte/macrophage colony- stimulating factor (GM-CSF), macrophage colony-stimulating factor (M- CSF), interleukins 1 and 6 (IL-1 and -6), or leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) alone. The Rh123med/hi, but not the Rh123lo fraction, contained cells that could be stimulated by either stem cell factor (SCF) or IL-3 alone. When combinations of growth factors were added, the Rh123med/hi fraction produced more colonies, and responded to a wider range of factor combinations than the Rh123lo population. When tested in vivo, both populations contained no detectable day 8 colony-forming unit- spleen (CFU-S), and similar frequencies of day 13 CFU-S. When transplanted into lethally irradiated recipients (100 cells/recipient), significant numbers of donor cells (67-73%) were found in the peripheral blood of Rh123lo recipients. Both myeloid and lymphoid cells were of donor origin. By comparison, the Rh123med/hi population produced recipients with 1-2% donor cells in peripheral blood, the majority of which were lymphoid.