The human parvovirus B19 is now known to be one of the causative agents of nonimmune hydrops fetalis and spontaneous abortions in pregnant women. The presence of the viral proteins and antibodies in fetuses of B19-infected women suggests that the virus can cross the placental barrier. In order to gain an insight into the mechanism of intrauterine fetal infection and the virus-induced hydrops fetalis, we examined whether human umbilical cord blood cells were permissive for B19 replication. Cord blood cells were infected with B19 in vitro, and Southern blot analyses of low M(r) DNA isolated from these cells revealed the presence of the characteristic replicative intermediates of B19 DNA. In addition, B19 genome expression in cord blood cells was detected by Northern blot analysis. Quantitative DNA dot blot analysis of culture supernatants documented complete assembly and release of B19 progeny virions in these cells. The progeny virions were biologically active in secondary infections of normal human bone marrow cells. The human umbilical cord blood cells may be a useful alternative to bone marrow and fetal liver culture systems for further studies on B19 since the need for bone marrow donors is obviated and, unlike fetal tissues, there are no ethical questions associated with the experimental use of cord blood because it is normally discarded. These studies also suggest that the umbilical cord blood may be a site for active replication of parvovirus B19 in vivo and may thus provide a means for transmission of the virus during intrauterine fetal infections.