Fetal cells in maternal blood are a noninvasive source of fetal genetic material for prenatal diagnosis. We determined the number of fetal-cell DNA equivalents present in maternal whole-blood samples to deduce whether this number is affected by fetal karyotype. Peripheral blood samples were obtained from 199 women carrying chromosomally normal fetuses and from 31 women with male aneuploid fetuses. Male fetal-cell DNA-equivalent quantitation was determined by PCR amplification of a Y chromosome-specific sequence and was compared with PCR product amplified from known concentrations of male DNA run simultaneously. The mean number of male fetal-cell DNA equivalents detected in 16-ml blood samples from 90 women bearing a 46,XY fetus was 19 (range 0-91). The mean number of male fetal-cell DNA equivalents detected in 109 women bearing a 46,XX fetus was 2 (range 0-24). The mean number of male fetal-cell DNA equivalents detected when the fetus was male compared with when the fetus was female was highly significant (P = .0001). More fetal cells were detected in maternal blood when the fetus was aneuploid. The mean number of male fetal-cell DNA equivalents detected when the fetal karyotype was 47,XY,+21 was 110 (range 0.1-650), which was significantly higher than the number of male fetal-cell DNA equivalents detected in 46,XY fetuses (P = .0001). Feto-maternal transfusion of nucleated cells appears to be influenced by fetal karyotype. The sixfold elevation of fetal cells observed in maternal blood when the fetus had trisomy 21 indicates that noninvasive cytogenetic diagnosis of trisomy 21 should be feasible.