It is well known that the human immune system is functionally less mature at birth and, within the first years of life, undergoes a process of sequential development. Two subsets of dendritic cells (DCs) were identified in the blood: plasmacytoid and myeloid DCs. DCs stain negative for CD3, CD14, CD16, CD19, CD20 and CD56, and positive for human leucocyte antigen (HLA)-DR. In addition, plasmacytoid DCs strongly express CD123 while myeloid DCs express CD11. The number of the two different subsets was measured by flow cytometry in the peripheral blood from 44 healthy infants and children, aged 8 months to 18 years. While the number of CD11c+ myeloid cells (mean 11 cells/microl) did not change with age, the proportion of CD123+ plasmacytoid DCs decreased significantly (P < 0.001) from about 20 cells/microl to 8 cells/microl with age. In addition, we found a direct correlation between the number of plasmacytoid DC and interferon (IFN)-alpha production. As the two subsets of DC preferentially recognize different pathogens, age-related changes may have an impact on the maturation of the immune response.