We have investigated the potential of stirred suspension cultures to support hematopoiesis from starting innocula of normal human bone marrow cells. Initial studies showed that the short-term maintenance of both colony-forming cell (CFC) numbers and their precursors, detected as long-term culture-initiating cells (LTC-IC), could be achieved as well in stirred suspension cultures as in static cultures. Neither of these progenitor cell populations was affected in either type of culture when porous microcarriers were added to provide an increased surface for adherent cell attachment. Supplementation of the medium with 10 ng/ml of Steel factor (SF) and 2 ng/ml of interleukin-3 (IL-3) resulted in a significant expansion of LTC-IC, CFC and total cell numbers in stirred cultures. Both the duration and ultimate magnitude of these expansions were correlated with the initial cell density and after 4 weeks the number of LTC-IC and CFC present in stirred cultures initiated with the highest starting cell concentration tested reflected average increases of 7- and 22-fold, respectively, above input values. Stirred suspension cultures offer the combined advantages of homogeneity and lack of dependence on the formation and maintenance of an adherent cell layer. Our results suggest their applicability to the development of scaled-up bioreactor systems for clinical procedures requiring the production of primitive hematopoietic cell populations. In addition, stirred suspension cultures may offer a new tool for the analysis of hematopoietic regulatory mechanisms.