Lymphocyte subpopulations in cord blood (CB; collected at birth from full-term babies) were compared with that of adult blood (AB) and found to contain significantly different numbers and percentages of lymphocyte subpopulations. The absolute lymphocyte count was greater in CB (4.8 +/- 1.1 x 10(9)/L) than in AB (1.69 +/- 0.38 x 10(9)/L), with CB having significantly higher absolute numbers of lymphocyte subsets even though CB percentages were significantly lower. Significant differences in percentages were found between cord and adult T cells (CB 58% vs AB 74%), NK cells (CB 19% vs AB 7%) and their subsets. CD38, a marker of activation and immaturity, was present on virtually all cord T cells and approximately half the adult T cells. CD45RA, a marker considered to define unprimed or naive cells, was expressed on 82% of cord lymphocytes as compared with 48% in AB. CD45RO was expressed on 16% of CB lymphocytes and 49% of AB lymphocytes. Cord blood contains a higher percentage and total number of immature and immunologically naive lymphocytes than AB.