Chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) is a lethal malignancy of the human hematopoietic stem cell. Here we report that coexistent benign, primitive hematopoietic progenitors can be distinguished from their malignant counterparts in CML bone marrow by differences in cell surface antigen expression. Selection of bone marrow cells expressing the CD34 antigen but lacking the HLA-DR antigen results in recovery of small lymphocyte-like blasts, which initiate and sustain production of myeloid clonogenic progeny in vitro. Secondary clonogenic cells derived at week 1, 5, and 8 from long- term bone marrow cultures (LTBMCs) initiated with primitive progenitors, which lack HLA-DR antigens, exhibit neither the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph1) nor the corresponding bcr/abl mRNA characteristics of CML. In contrast, clonogenic cells recovered at week 1, 5, and 8 from LTBMCs initiated with the CML HLA-DR+ population contain Ph1 and express bcr/abl mRNA. This observation indicates that it may be possible to select a population of viable, exclusively benign hematopoietic stem cells from CML bone marrow capable of repopulating the hematopoietic compartment following autologous bone marrow transplantation.