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Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are characterized by their ability to differentiate into all hematopoietic cell lineages while retaining their capacity for self renewal. One of the predictions of this model is the existence of a heterogeneous pool of HSCs, some members of which are destined to become lineage restricted progenitor cells while others function to renew the stem cell pool. To test whether HSCs are heterogeneous with respect to cell cycle status, we determined the fraction of phenotypically defined murine HSCs (Thy1.1lo Lin-/lo Sca- 1+) that contain > 2n amount of DNA as measured by propidium iodide staining, Hoechst dye uptake and [3H]thymidine labeling; that fraction is 18-22%. In contrast, in the developing fetal liver, 40% of HSCs are in the S/G2/M phases of the cell cycle. Those HSCs which exhibit a low level of staining with rhodamine 123 are almost exclusively in G0/G1 (97%) whereas only 70% of HSCs which stain brightly for rhodamine 123 are in G0/G1. The injection of 100 G0/G1 HSCs rescued 90% of lethally irradiated mice in contrast to 100 S/G2/M HSCs, which protected only 25% of lethally irradiated recipients. Enhanced long-term donor-derived multilineage reconstitution of the peripheral blood was observed in recipients of 100 G0/G1 HSCs compared to recipients of 100 S/G2/M cells. These data indicate that a significant proportion of HSCs are actively proliferating during steady state hematopoiesis and that this subpopulation of cells exhibits reduced stem cell activity.