A series of monoclonal antibodies directed against T cell differentiation antigens was used to identify circulating T cells in normal human neonates. Twenty-five cord blood samples, taken after cesarean or vaginal delivery, and 16 venous blood samples from normal adult controls were examined using monoclonal antibodies in an indirect immunofluorescence technique. The percentage of circulating OKT3 positive (pan-T cell) cells was significantly lower in the neonatal blood (52.8%) compared with the adult controls (74.9%) (P less than .001). Of the cord mononuclear cells, 58% showed reactivity with OKT10 (common thymocyte antigen) compared with only 7% in adult controls (P less than .001). The helper:suppressor T cell ratio was lower in cord blood (1:2) as compared with 1:3 for adult blood (P less than .005) as observed in these studies. These figures reflect the presence of a significant population (25%) of immature T cells in cord blood that expresses simultaneously both helper (OKT4) and suppressor (OKT8) phenotypes. Twenty-four percent of the T cells in cord blood also expressed OKT6 antigen (cortical thymocyte), a feature not found in adult blood. Double-labeling studies characterized a previously undescribed blood T cell phenotype, which was simultaneously OKT6 and OKT3 (pan-T cell) positive; of the cells reactive with OKT3, 43% also were positive with OKT6. This study reveals the presence of immature populations of T cells in normal human neonatal blood exhibiting phenotypes characteristic of normal developing thymocytes and a previously undescribed cell phenotype.

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