Many nonmalignant hematologic disorders could potentially be treated by genetic correction of as few as 5-10% of target lineage cells. However, immune system clearance of cells expressing gene products perceived as foreign could be limiting. There is evidence that tolerance to foreign proteins can result when myeloablative conditioning is used, but this limits the overall applicability of such techniques. Therefore, we sought to evaluate the engraftment of hematopoietic stem cells carrying a foreign transgene after low-dose irradiation by comparing in vivo survival of murine long-term repopulating cells (LTRC) transduced with either a retroviral vector expressing the bacterial neomycin phosphotransferase gene (neo) or a vector containing neo gene sequences but modified to prevent protein expression (nonexpression). First, marrow cells from congenic donors were transduced with either vector and transplanted into recipients treated with standard dose irradiation of 800 rads. High-level engraftment and gene marking resulted, without differences in the marking levels or pattern of persistence of the cells between cells transduced with either vector. Low-dose irradiation at 100 rads was tested using higher cell doses. Marking levels as high as 10% overall were obtained, again with no differences between mice receiving cells transduced with the neo versus the nonexpression vectors. To investigate a potentially more immunogenic protein, marrow cells were transduced with a vector containing the green fluorescent protein (GFP) gene, and their persistence was studied in recipient mice receiving 100 rads. Stable GFP expression in 5-10% of circulating cells was observed long term. We conclude that even with very low dose conditioning, engraftment by genetically modified LTRC cells at clinically significant levels can be achieved without evidence for clearance of cells known to be expressing immunogenic proteins.