If residual cancer cells in harvested bone marrow could be marked and subsequently detected in patients at relapse, valuable information would be obtained about the source of recurrent disease after autologous marrow transplantation. If normal progenitor cells were also marked, the study would provide useful data on the susceptibility of these human cells to gene transfer and their capacity to express newly introduced genes. We transferred the neomycin-resistance gene (NeoR) into bone marrow cells harvested from 20 children with acute myeloid leukemia (n = 12) or neuroblastoma (n = 8) in clinical and cytological remission using a retrovirus vector. The cells were then returned to the patients as part of an autologous bone marrow transplantation protocol. Two AML and three neuroblastoma patients have relapsed. In all, the resurgent cells contained the NeoR marker by analysis with PCR. These results prove that so-called remission marrow can contribute to relapse in patients who receive autologous transplants. The gene marking technique is now being used to evaluate techniques of pretransplant purging.