It has been reported that stroma-dependent cultures support proliferation of hematopoietic stem cells (HSC). In order to investigate the effect of soluble stromal factors, we developed short-term serum-low liquid cultures in which the effect of stroma-conditioned media (SCM) from the murine FBMD-1, and human L87/4 and L88/5 cell lines was studied on the maintenance and expansion of various human HSC subsets in CD34-positive selected mobilized peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) from autologous transplants of lymphoma and multiple myeloma patients. The human cobblestone area forming cell (CAFC) assay was employed to determine the frequencies of both the CAFC weeks 2 to 4 as tentative indicators of progenitor and transiently repopulating HSC, and the more primitive CAFC weeks 6 to 8 as indicators of long-term repopulating HSC. In 7-day liquid cultures containing interleukin-3 (IL-3), stem cell factor (SCF) and IL-6, we recovered 3.0-fold more colony-forming cells (CFC) and 1.7- to 1.9-fold more CAFC weeks 2 and 4. The absolute number of primitive CAFC weeks 6 and 8 were only maintained (1.1- to 1.4-fold) in these liquid cultures. This modest expansion was significantly improved by the addition of SCM from the FBMD-1, L87/4 or L88/5 cell lines. Output CFC numbers were 6.8-, 5.8- and 9.9-fold higher, respectively, than the input values, while absolute CAFC week 2 to 4 numbers were 4.5-, 10.2- and 10.2-fold expanded, respectively. The addition of SCM also improved expansion of the more primitive CAFC week 6 to 8 stem cell subsets by 2.2-, 4.5- and 4.9-fold, respectively. The addition of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF), granulocyte-macrophage-CSF (GM-CSF), IL-1beta, IL-11 or macrophage inflammatory protein-1alpha to cultures containing IL-3, SCF and IL-6 could not explain the SCM effect and in all these combinations SCM addition further increased the recovery of HSC subsets. Similarly, addition of anti-cytokine antibodies (ie alpha-G-CSF, alpha-GM-CSF, alpha-IL-11, alpha-leukemia inhibitory factor) to liquid cultures containing IL-3, SCF, IL-6 and SCM could not neutralize the SCM effect. These data indicate that SCM significantly enhances expansion of primitive HSC and progenitor cells from CD34-selected PBSC in 7-day cultures and in synergistic combination with multiple cytokines at optimal concentrations. As a result, SCM is a useful component of short-term liquid culture procedures for clinical expansion or manipulation of primitive HSC.