Efficient gene transfer into hematopoietic stem cells offers a number of potential therapeutic applications. However, the relatively low titer of retroviral supernatants and the requirement for cell division to ensure integration have meant that transduction efficiency has been low. We have modified a flowthrough approach to cell transduction and have been able consistently to increase gene transfer efficiency into human hematopoietic progenitor cells. We transduced CD34 cells with retroviral vectors encoding a truncated nerve growth factor receptor (NGFR) or neo. Retroviral supernatant was pulled through 0.2-micron polycarbonated membranes, followed by placement of cells on the filter. In the absence of cytokines, the transduction efficiency of CD34 cells with a NGFR vector was increased 3-11-fold over that obtained at an identical MOI in liquid culture to produce 11%-44% transduction. Furthermore, both Thy1+ and Thy1- subsets in a total CD34 population were transduced with similar efficiency, and transduction with a neo vector, as measured by G418 resistance in clonogenic assays, increased 1.5-5-fold. The mechanism by which gene transfer is improved may reflect colocalization of cells and retrovirus. Costaining of cells transduced on the filter with an NGFR retrovirus with both an NGFR antibody and a gp70 antibody that recognizes viral coat protein revealed high-level coexpression. The levels of in vitro gene transfer we obtain are equivalent to those observed when CD34 cells are cocultured in liquid culture with cytokines. However, culture with cytokines may commit CD34 cells to differentiation and has produced disappointingly low levels of subsequent in vivo gene transfer. Gene marking studies using distinguishable retroviral vectors will provide a means of learning whether the effects of flowthrough transduction genuinely enhance the efficiency of gene transfer to human marrow-repopulating cells.