Pretransplant blood transfusions from a dog leukocyte antigen (DLA)-identical canine littermate marrow donor will sensitize the recipient to non-DLA-linked polymorphic minor histocompatibility antigens, which uniformly results in graft rejection. We observed previously that 2000 cGy gamma-irradiation of marrow donor blood transfusions prevented this sensitization and subsequent marrow graft rejection. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether treatment of unrelated blood transfusions with gamma-irradiation would also prevent sensitization. Conceivably, sensitization to minor histocompatibility antigens might be more efficient or potent and thus more difficult to prevent when those antigens are seen in the context of disparity for DLA antigens. Furthermore, this model, in which sensitization to DLA-identical littermate marrow is caused by unrelated blood transfusions, is directly relevant to the clinical circumstances of human marrow transplantation. We assessed sensitization caused by unrelated blood transfusions by monitoring graft outcome in recipients transplanted with DLA-identical littermate marrow after conditioning with 920 cGy total body irradiation. Two thousand cGy gamma-irradiation of unrelated blood transfusions significantly reduced the incidence of transfusion-induced sensitization of recipients. There was successful marrow engraftment in 15 of 16 (94%, P < 0.003) of these animals in contrast to the previous study in which only 7 of 16 (44%) animals engrafted after they were transfused with unmodified blood on the same schedule. These results suggest that blood transfusions for use in humans, especially for patients with aplastic anemia, should be gamma-irradiated in order to reduce the incidence of marrow graft rejection caused by sensitization to minor histocompatibility antigens.