Bone marrow (BM) stem cell reserves and function and stromal cell hematopoiesis supporting capacity were evaluated in 15 patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and 61 normal controls using flow cytometry, clonogenic assays, long-term BM cultures (LTBMCs) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. MS patients displayed normal CD34+ cell numbers but a low frequency of colony-forming cells (CFCs) in both BM mononuclear and purified CD34+ cell fractions, compared to controls. Patients had increased proportions of activated BM CD3+/HLA-DR+ and CD3+/CD38+ T cells that correlated inversely with CFC numbers. Patient BM CD3+ T cells inhibited colony formation by normal CD34+ cells and patient CFC numbers increased significantly following immunomagnetic removal of T cells from BMMCs, suggesting that activated T cells may be involved in the defective clonogenic potential of hematopoietic progenitors. Patient BM stromal cells displayed normal hematopoiesis supporting capacity indicated by the CFC number in the nonadherent cell fraction of LTBMCs recharged with normal CD34+ cells. Culture supernatants displayed normal stromal derived factor-1 and stem cell factor/kit ligand but increased flt-3 ligand levels. These findings provide support for the use of autologous stem cell transplantation in MS patients. The low clonogenic potential of BM hematopoietic progenitors probably reflects the presence of activated T cells rather than an intrinsic defect.