Annually, approximately two million babies are exposed to cigarette smoke in utero and postnatally through cigarette smoking of their mothers. Exposure to mainstream cigarette smoke is known to impair both innate and adaptive immunities, and it has been hypothesized that the effects of in utero exposure to cigarette smoke on children's health might primarily stem from the adverse effects of cigarette smoke on the immune system. To simulate the environment that babies from smoking mothers encounter, we examined the effects of prenatal mainstream and postnatal sidestream cigarette smoke on spleen cell responses. Results show that postnatal exposure of newborn Balb/c mouse pups to sidestream cigarette smoke through the first 6 weeks of life strongly suppresses the antibody response of spleen cells to the T-cell-dependent antigen, sheep red blood cells. The reduction in the antibody response seen within 6 weeks of postnatal smoke exposure is much quicker than the published data on the time 25 weeks) required to establish reproducible immunosuppression in adult rats and mice. Moreover, the immunosuppression is not associated with significant changes in T-cell numbers or subset distribution. While the postnatal exposure to cigarette smoke did not affect the mitogenic response of T and B cells, the exposure inhibited the T cell receptor-mediated rise in the intracellular calcium concentration. These results suggest that the early postnatal period is highly sensitive to the immunosuppressive effects of environmental tobacco smoke, and the effects are causally associated with impaired antigen-mediated signaling in T cells.