Flow cytometry was used to analyse the cord blood T cells of 33 babies at high risk 'HR' for developing allergy (born to at least one atopic, asthmatic parent), and 10 low risk 'LR' babies (born to non-atopic parents), following normal term deliveries. Significantly lower numbers of CD25+, (activated) T cells (p < 0.005) were seen in the cord blood of the HR babies who had developed both allergic symptoms and positive skin prick tests by one year of age when compared with the LR group. CD45RO+ (memory) T cells were detected in both HR and LR babies with a trend for lower numbers of memory cells to be detected in HR infants who later developed allergic symptoms and/or positive skin prick tests. Significantly lower numbers of CD4+/CD45RO+ were seen in the cord blood of HR babies who developed allergic symptoms compared to HR babies who showed no sign of allergy by one year and to the LR babies (p < 0.05 and p < 0.005). The presence of activated and memory T cells at birth implies intra-uterine priming. The significantly lower numbers of memory T cells in the HR babies suggests a suppression of T cell activation or lack of antigenic priming in this group. This prenatal influence on babies born to atopic parents may have important implications with regard to the mechanisms underlying atopic sensitisation.