Granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (G-CSF) mobilized peripheral blood progenitor cells (PBPC) have successfully been used as stem cells for both autologous and allogeneic transplants. However, little is known concerning the absolute number and phenotype of primitive progenitors, such as long-term culture-initiating cells (LTC-IC) in mobilized PBPC. The aim of our study was to evaluate the capacity of G-CSF to mobilize LTC-IC in the PB of normal individuals and to evaluate the phenotypic and functional characteristics of G-CSF mobilized LTC-IC. G-CSF was administered to 29 healthy volunteers at 7.5 micrograms or 10 micrograms/kg/d subcutaneously (SC) for 5 consecutive days and PBPC were harvested on day 6. Mobilization with G-CSF increased the absolute number of week 5 LTC-IC in PB 60-fold, while the number of CD34+ cells and committed colony forming cells (CFC) was increased sevenfold to 12-fold. The frequency of CFC and week 5 LTC-IC in CD34+ cells selected by fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS) from mobilized PBPC was 2 +/- 0.3-fold and 9 +/- 2.2-fold higher respectively than in CD34+ cells selected from unmobilized PBMNC. CFC were enriched in the CD34+ CD38+ and CD34+ HLA-DR+ populations. The absolute number of LTC-IC present in CD34+ CD38- and CD34+ HLA-DR- cells selected by FACS from either mobilized PBPC, unmobilized PBMNC or steady state bone marrow (BM) was similar (0.5% to 2%). In contrast to unmobilized PBMNC or steady state BM CD34+ CD38+ and CD34+ HLA-DR+ cells, which contain less than 0.1% LTC-IC, CD34+ CD38+ and CD34+ HLA-DR+ cells sorted from mobilized PBPC contained 0.5% to 5% of cells capable of sustaining hematopoiesis in long-term cultures for 5 weeks. However, 90% to 95% of LTC-IC present in mobilized CD34+ CD38+ and CD34+ HLA-DR+ cells were not able to sustain hematopoiesis for 8 weeks, while 30% of CD34+ CD38- and CD34+ HLA-DR- LTC-IC present in mobilized PBPC could sustain hematopoiesis for at least 8 weeks. This suggests that the majority of CD34+ CD38+ and CD34+ HLA-DR+ week 5 LTC-IC represent progenitors at an intermediate state of differentiation. We conclude that G-CSF effectively mobilizes LTC-IC in the blood of normal individuals. Although a fraction of these cells has functional characteristics similar to those of steady state PBMNC or BM LTC-IC, more than 85% of mobilized PBPC LTC-IC are CD34+ CD38+ and CD34+ HLA-DR+, capable of sustaining hematopoiesis for 5 weeks, but not for 8 weeks. The functional and phenotypic characterization of primitive and more mature populations of LTC-IC in mobilized PBPC should prove extremely useful in future studies examining the role of these progenitors in engraftment following transplantation.