By using in vitro cloning method and cytogenetic analysis from single hemopoietic colonies, the kinetics of differentiation and proliferation, and chromosomal abnormalities of hemopoietic stem cells (CFU-GM, BFU-E) from atomic bomb exposures and patients with acute leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) were investigated. High incidence (24 colonies/ 206 total colonies; 11.7%) of irradiation-induced chromosomal abnormalities was observed in circulating hemopoietic stem cells from 21 high dose exposures. In two individuals, karyotypic abnormalities closely resembling those observed in the peripheral T lymphocytes were also seen in the myeloid stem cells (BFU-E). This finding suggests that totipotential stem cells common to myeloid and lymphoid lineages exist in healthy human adults and atomic bomb irradiation produced chromosomal aberrations in them. In each of 5 MDS cases with both GM colony and erythroid burst formation, identical marker chromosomes were seen in CFU-GM and BFU-E. This finding demonstrates that MDS is a clonal hemopathy that originates in a pluripotential stem cell. Whether acute leukemia is also a clonal hemopathy originating in a pluripotential stem cell remains to be determined. But there was a considerable heterogeneity in kinetics of proliferation and in responsiveness to colony stimulating factors among these cases. (author) 54 refs.