Flow cytometric data were used to compare the phenotype of term decidual lymphocytes and peripheral blood lymphocytes. Unlike peripheral blood lymphocytes, a significant percentage of CD3+, CD4+, CD8+ and CD16+ term decidual lymphocyte populations expressed the CD69 activation marker. The relative proportions of CD38 in CD3+, CD4+ and CD8+ populations were more than twice as large in term decidual lymphocytes as in peripheral blood lymphocytes. As reported for early decidual lymphocytes, the expression of CD38 and CD69 by term decidual lymphocytes suggests that these cells are also regionally activated. However, term decidual lymphocytes showed no spontaneous cytotoxicity against normal trophoblast or its tumoral counterpart, JEG cells. After stimulation with interleukin-2, these lymphocytes became cytotoxic, as did peripheral blood lymphocytes. The relevance of this latter result to the immune control of the physiological and pathological invasion of the decidua by the trophoblast is discussed.