Low interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) secretion has been found in individuals with active atopic disease. Whether this is a cause or result of the disease process is uncertain. Cord blood IFN-gamma secretion was examined in 35 neonates who were then prospectively followed up for 1 year for the development of atopic disease. Infants who developed either symptoms of atopic disease or a positive IgE-mediated skin prick test at 12 months of age produced significantly less IFN-gamma at birth compared with those who did not (p = 0.005). This reduced secretion of IFN-gamma at birth indicates that the defect in interferon secretion is a primary component of the atopic state rather than an effect of the disease process.