Haemopoietic stem cells in vivo proliferate and develop in association with stromal cells of the bone marrow. Proliferation and differentiation of haemopoietic stem cells also occurs in vitro, either in association with stromal cells or in response to soluble growth factors. Many of the growth factors that promote growth and development of haemopoietic cells in vitro have now been molecularly cloned and purified to homogeneity and various techniques have been described that allow enrichment (to near homogeneity) of multipotential stem cells. This in turn, has facilitated studies at the mechanistic level regarding the role of such growth factors in self-renewal and differentiation of stem cells and their relevance in stromal-cell mediated haemopoiesis. Our studies have shown that at least some multipotential cells express receptors for most, if not all, of the haemopoietic cell growth factors already characterized and that to elicit a response, several growth factors often need to be present at the same time. Furthermore, lineage development reflects the stimuli to which the cells are exposed, that is, some stimuli promote differentiation and development of multipotential cells into multiple cell lineages, whereas others promote development of multipotential cells into only one cell lineage. We suggest that, in the bone marrow environment, the stromal cells produce or sequester different types of growth factors, leading to the formation of microenvironments that direct cells along certain lineages. Furthermore, a model system has been used to show the possibility that the self-renewal probability of multipotential cells can also be modulated by the range and concentrations of growth factors present in the environment. This suggests that discrete microenvironments, preferentially promoting self-renewal rather than differentiation of multipotential cells, may also be provided by marrow stromal cells and sequestered growth factors.