The efficiency of retroviral-mediated gene transfer into hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) is dependent on the survival and self-renewal of HSC in vitro during retroviral infection. We have examined the effect of prestimulation of bone marrow with various cytokines, including the product of the Steel gene, Steel factor or stem cell factor (SCF) (the ligand for the c-kit receptor) on the efficiency of retroviral transduction of the human adenosine deaminase (hADA) cDNA into murine HSC. Bone marrow cells were prestimulated for 48 hours with hematopoietic growth factors, then cocultivated with the packaging cell line producing the ZipPGK-ADA simplified retrovirus for an additional 48 hours with continued growth factor exposure. Nonadherant cells from these cocultures were injected into lethally irradiated recipients. The content of day 12 colony-forming unit-spleen (CFU-S12) in SCF/interleukin 6 (IL-6)-prestimulated and cocultured bone marrow was more than threefold greater than that of IL-3/IL-6-prestimulated bone marrow cells. All mice receiving bone marrow cells infected with the PGK-ADA virus after prestimulation with IL-3/IL-6 or SCF/IL-6 demonstrated hADA expression in the peripheral blood after full hematopoietic reconstitution. While all recipients of IL-3/IL-6- prestimulated bone marrow expressed hADA at 4 months posttransplant, in three independent experiments examining a total of 33 mice, in most recipients of SCF/IL-6-prestimulated and infected bone marrow cells, the expression of human enzyme was higher than IL-3/IL-6 mice. Southern blot analysis of DNA from hematopoietic tissues from these same mice prepared at least 4 months posttransplantation also demonstrated a higher infection efficiency of HSC as measured by proviral integration patterns and genome copy number analysis. These results suggest that the higher level of hADA expression seen in mice receiving marrow prestimulated with SCF/IL-6 before retroviral infection is due to more efficient infection of reconstituting HSC. Other growth factor combinations were also studied; however, prestimulation with SCF/IL-6 or IL-3/IL-6 appeared optimal. Using retroviral-mediated gene transfer and viral integration patterns, Steel factor (SCF) in combination with IL-6 appears to increase the survival and self-renewal of reconstituting hematopoietic stem cells and proves useful in effecting expression of foreign genes in transplant recipients. Such pretreatment may also be useful in the application of retroviral transfer methods to human cells.