MicroRNAs are small noncoding RNAs that regulate gene expression post-transcriptionally. Here we applied microRNA profiling to 17 human lymphocyte subsets to identify microRNA signatures that were distinct among various subsets and different from those of mouse lymphocytes. One of the signature microRNAs of naive CD4+ T cells, miR-125b, regulated the expression of genes encoding molecules involved in T cell differentiation, including IFNG, IL2RB, IL10RA and PRDM1. The expression of synthetic miR-125b and lentiviral vectors encoding the precursor to miR-125b in naive lymphocytes inhibited differentiation to effector cells. Our data provide an 'atlas' of microRNA expression in human lymphocytes, define subset-specific signatures and their target genes and indicate that the naive state of T cells is enforced by microRNA.