Little is known about the normal range and variability of T-cell subsets in older children. We analyzed peripheral blood mononuclear cell subsets in 112 healthy children, ages 12-19 years (mean +/- SD: 15.4 +/- 1.9 years), using monoclonal antibodies and flow cytometry. The study population included 28 blacks and 84 whites, with 59 boys and 53 girls. The mean +/- SD cell subset values were: CD3+ T cells, 74.0 +/- 7.8%; CD4+ helper-inducer T cells, 46.8 +/- 6.9%; CD8+ suppressor-cytotoxic T cells, 27.3 +/- 5.7%; CD4:CD8 helper:suppressor ratio, 1.81 +/- 0.57; CD16+ natural killer cells, 4.4 +/- 3.1%; CD19+ B cells, 10.0 +/- 5.3%; CD14+ monocytes, 20.0 +/- 6.5%; and HLA-DR cells, 15.4 +/- 4.8%. Overall, boys had a higher proportion of HLA-DR+ cells than girls, attributable to an increase in CD19+ B cells. Blacks tended to have a higher proportion of HLA-DR+ cells than whites, apparently due to an increase in activated T cells. Detailed analysis by age group revealed a striking transition in the pattern of CD4+ and CD8+ cell populations. The CD4:CD8 ratio, higher in boys than girls for ages 12-16, was reversed to the "adult" pattern in 17-19 year olds, with a higher CD4:CD8 ratio in girls. These data provide important baseline values for healthy children and stress the importance of establishing normative ranges for pediatric subjects separately from adults.