The present investigation aimed to determine to what extent maternal helminth infection primes parasite-specific cellular responsiveness in neonates. Umbilical cord mononuclear blood cells (UCBC) and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from mothers proliferated in response to mitogenic stimulation with concanavalin A, as well as to bacterial Streptococcus pyogenes-derived (streptolysin O) and helminth-specific antigens of Necator americanus and Onchocerca volvulus. Cellular responses to Echinococcus multilocularis (Em) and Oesophagostomum bifurcum (Oes), helminth parasites not endemic in the study area, were absent (for Em) or very low (for Oes due to antigenic cross-reactivity). Cellular responsiveness to mitogen and antigens was higher in mothers than in their neonates. Several Th1-type (IL-2, IL-12, and IFN-gamma) and Th2-type (IL-5 and IL-10) cytokines were produced by UCBC from neonates and PBMC from mothers. Low levels of IFN-gamma were elicited by UCBC in response to helminth and bacterial antigens, while secretion of IL-2 was pronounced and similarly high in neonates and their mothers. Amounts of IL-5 produced by UCBC in response to bacterial SL-O and mitogenic stimulation (PHA) were low, but equivalent levels of IL-5 were induced by intestinal helminth and filaria-derived antigens in neonates and mothers. A pronounced production of IL-10 and IL-12 by UCBC was observed--spontaneous IL-10 and IL-12 secretion by UCBC was higher in neonates than by PBMC from mothers. Net amounts of IL-10 elicited by helminth antigens were similar, while net IL-12 in response to mitogen, and bacterial and helminth antigens was significantly higher in mothers than their offspring. Our results indicate that human maternal helminth infection does sensitize in utero for parasite-specific cellular responsiveness in offspring, and also activates specific production of several cytokines, and such children do not present a dominant expression of immunity of either Th1 or Th2.