Human cord blood (CB) contains large numbers of both committed and primitive hematopoietic progenitor cells and has been shown to have the capacity to reconstitute the lympho-hematopoietic system in transplant protocols. To investigate the potential usefulness of CB stem and progenitor cell populations to deliver new genetic material into the blood and immune systems, we have transduced these cells using retroviral technology and compared the efficiency of gene transfer into CB cells with normal adult human bone marrow cells using a variety of infection protocols. Using two retroviral vectors which differ significantly in both recombinant viral titers and vector design, low density CB or adult bone marrow (ABM) cells were infected, and committed progenitor and more primitive hematopoietic cells were analyzed for gene expression by G418 drug resistance (G418r) of neophosphotransferase and protein analysis for murine adenosine deaminase (mADA). Standard methylcellulose progenitor assays were used to quantitate transduction efficiency of committed progenitor cells, and the long term culture-initiating cell (LTC-IC) assay was used to quantitate transduction efficiency of more primitive cells. Our results indicate that CB cells were more efficiently transduced via retroviral-mediated gene transfer as compared with ABM-derived cells. In addition, stable expression of the introduced gene sequences, including the ADA cDNA, was demonstrated in the progeny of infected LTC-ICs after 5 wk in long-term marrow cultures. Expression of the introduced ADA cDNA was higher than the endogenous human ADA gene in the LTC-IC-derived colonies examined. These studies demonstrate that CB progenitor and stem cells can be efficiently infected using retroviral vectors and suggest that CB cells may provide a suitable target population in gene transfer protocols for some genetic diseases.