Factors that induce proliferation of the human hematopoietic stem cell are ill-defined. Primitive hematopoietic progenitors can be maintained and differentiate in stroma-dependent, long-term bone marrow cultures (LTBMC), originally described by Dexter et al. (Dexter, T. M., L. H. Coutinho, E. Spooncer, C. M. Heyworth, C. P. Daniel, R. Schiro, J. Chang, and T. D. Allen. 1990. Molecular Control of Haemopoiesis). However, 70-80% of primitive progenitors capable of reinitiating secondary stromal cultures (LTBMC-initiating cells [IC]) are lost over a period of 5 wk in such cultures. We have recently described a novel "stroma-noncontact" culture system, in which hematopoietic progenitors are separated from the stromal layer by a 0.4-micron microporous filter membrane. Primitive progenitors in such cultures can not only differentiate into committed progenitors, but are also maintained to a greater extent than in "Dexter" cultures. However, still only 50% of the originally seeded LTBMC-IC are recovered at week 5. Since maintenance of primitive progenitors may depend not only on growth-promoting factors but also on factors that inhibit differentiation and/or proliferation, we evaluated the effect of macrophage inflammatory protein 1 alpha (MIP-1 alpha) or "stem cell inhibitor" in combination with the growth-inducing factor interleukin 3 (IL-3) on the recovery of LTBMC-IC from stroma-noncontact cultures. We demonstrate that addition of MIP-1 alpha alone to stroma-noncontact cultures does not change the number of LTBMC-IC present after 8 wk, indicating that this factor may not directly inhibit or stimulate proliferation of primitive progenitors. Addition of the growth stimulatory cytokine, IL-3, alone results in exhaustion of LTBMC-IC after 8 wk of culture, possibly as a result of their terminal differentiation. However, LTBMC-IC can be maintained for at least 8 wk when grown in stroma-noncontact cultures supplemented with both MIP-1 alpha plus IL-3. This effect depends on soluble (ill-defined) stromal factors, and results from a direct interaction of these cytokines with the progenitor population or its progeny, but not the stroma.