To define the action of the retroviral src gene on hematopoietic stem cells, C57BL/6 x DBA/2 (B6D2F1) mouse long-term marrow cultures were infected at initiation with Moloney murine leukemia virus (MuLV) pseudotypes of src-recombinant retroviruses with the src gene inserted in the env region of an amphotropic MuLV (src-Ampho), or in the gag region of Moloney MuLV (src-Mo). Other cultures were infected with Friend spleen focus-forming virus polycythemia-inducing strain (SFFVp), Moloney MuLV, or amphotropic MuLV, or were uninfected controls. Harvested nonadherent cells were tested weekly for multilineage, granulocyte-erythroid-megakaryocyte macrophage (CFU-GEMM) colony formation in vitro in recombinant murine IL-3 and erythropoietin, and individual colonies were removed, split 1:2, with half of each replated for in vitro self-renewal and the other half examined morphologically for number of hematopoietic cellular lineages, or tested for release of MuLV and src virus. Cultures infected with src-Ampho, src-Mo, or SFFVp demonstrated a significant increase in cumulative nonadherent cell and CFU-GEMM production. There was prolonged self-renewal over seven serial transfers of individual CFU-GEMM from src virus-infected cultures over seven serial transfers, and five of 61 individual colonies from the second or third generations contained detectable v-src gene sequences, but none released detectable src virus. Self-renewal of CFU-GEMM was similar to that with permanent IL-3-dependent cell line B6SUtA. In contrast, MuLV-infected or control uninfected cultures produced fewer cells, and self-renewal of CFU-GEMM did not exceed three generations. IL-3-dependent clonal hematopoietic progenitor cell lines, derived from each culture group, formed no detectable tumors in vivo; however, each released the original helper and/or transforming virus. Adherent cell lines, derived from src-Ampho-infected cultures released src virus and formed fibro-sarcomas in vivo. The data support the conclusion that src-recombinant virus expression in long-term marrow cultures increases the self-renewal capacity of multilineage hematopoietic stem cells.