Hematopoietic stem cells show reduced staining with a mitochondrial fluorescent dye, rhodamine 123 (Rh-123), which was supposed to indicate decreased mitochondrial activity in these cells. Rh123 and several other fluorescent dyes are substrates for transport mediated by P-glycoprotein (P-gp), an efflux pump responsible for multidrug resistance in tumor cells. We have found that staining of human bone marrow cells with fluorescent dyes is potentiated by P-gp inhibitors and inversely correlated with P-gp expression. P-gp is expressed in practically all hematopoietic progenitor cells, including long-term culture-initiating cells. The highest levels of P-gp among the progenitors are associated with cells displaying characteristics of pluripotent stem cells. These results have implications for stem cell purification and bone marrow resistance to cancer chemotherapy.