A significant fraction of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) have been shown to be resistant to the effects of cytotoxic agents such as 5- fluorouracil (5-FU), which is thought to eliminate many of the rapidly dividing, more committed progenitors in the bone marrow and to provide a relatively enriched population of the most primitive hematopoietic progenitor cells. Although differences between 5-FU-enriched progenitor populations and those from normal bone marrow have been described, it remained unclear if these differences reflected characteristics of the most primitive stem cells that were revealed by 5-FU, or if there were changes in the stem-cell population itself. Here, we have examined some of the properties of the stem cells in the bone marrow before and after 5-FU treatment and have defined several activation-related changes in the stem-cell population. We found that long-term reconstituting stem cells decrease their expression of the growth factor receptor c-kit by 10-fold and increase their expression of the integrin Mac-1 (CD11b). These changes begin as early as 24 hours after 5-FU treatment and are most pronounced within 2 to 3 days. This activated phenotype of HSCs isolated from 5-FU-treated mice is similar to the phenotype of stem cells found in the fetal liver and to the phenotype of transiently repopulating progenitors in normal bone marrow. We found that cell cycle is induced concomitantly with these physical changes, and within 2 days as many as 29% of the stem-cell population is in the S/G2/M phases of the cell cycle. Furthermore, when examined at a clonal level, we found that 5-FU did not appear to eliminate many of the transient, multipotent progenitors from the bone marrow that were found to be copurified with long-term repopulating, activated stem cells. These results demonstrate the sensitivity of the hematopoietic system to changes in its homeostasis and correlate the expression of several important surface molecules with the activation state of HSCs.