We evaluated in vivo interactions between extrinsic (growth factor induced) and intrinsic (genetically determined) effectors of mouse primitive hemopoietic stem cell proliferation and numbers. Accordingly, stem cell frequency and cell cycle kinetics were assessed in eight strains of inbred mice using the cobblestone area-forming cell (CAFC) assay. A strong inverse correlation was observed between mouse lifespan and the number of autonomously cycling progenitors (CAFC day 7) in the femur. The population size of primitive stem cells (CAFC day 35) varied widely (up to sevenfold) among strains, unlike total CAFC day 7 numbers (cycling and quiescent), which were similar. Administration of the early acting cytokine flt-3 ligand to these strains resulted in activation of quiescent primitive stem cells exclusively in strains with high endogenous stem cell numbers (DBA and AKR), but was unrelated to strain-specific progenitor cell cycling. To map loci affecting stem cell frequency, we quantified stem cells in BXD recombinant inbred mice (offspring of C57BL/6 and DBA/2). The resulting strain distribution pattern showed high concordance with a marker that mapped to chromosome 18 (19 cM). Linkage with this genomic interval was associated with a likelihood of odds score of 3.3, surpassing the level required for significance. Interestingly, this segment, containing the EGR-1 gene, shows synteny with human chromosome 5q, a region strongly associated with various hematological malignancies. Our findings indicate that a gene mapping to this region is mutated in either C57BL/6 or DBA/2 (and possibly AKR) mice. These studies in apparently healthy mice may facilitate the identification of a gene implicated in human 5q-syndromes.