Overexpression of the detoxifying enzyme cytidine deaminase (CDD) renders normal and leukemic hematopoietic cells resistant to cytarabine (1-beta-D-arabinofuranosylcytosine), and studies on murine cells have suggested transgenic CDD overexpression as a way to reduce the substantial myelotoxicity induced by the deoxycytidine analogs cytarabine and gemcitabine (2',2'-difluorodeoxycytidine). We now have investigated CDD (over-)expression in the human hematopoietic system. Retroviral gene transfer significantly increased the resistance of CDD-transduced cord blood and peripheral blood-derived progenitor cells for doses ranging from 20-100 nM cytarabine and 8-10 nM gemcitabine. Protection was observed for progenitors of erythroid as well as myeloid differentiation, though the degree of protection varied for individual drugs. In addition, significant selection of CDD-transduced cells was obtained after a 4-day culture in 30-100 nM cytarabine. Thus, our data demonstrate that overexpression of CDD cDNA results in significant protection of human progenitors from cytarabine- as well as gemcitabine-induced toxicity, and allows in vitro selection of transduced cells. This strongly argues for a potential therapeutic role of CDD gene transfer in conjunction with dose-intensive cytarabine- or gemcitabine-containing chemotherapy regimen.