Peripheral blood lymphocyte subsets of two groups of patients affected by Down's syndrome (DS), ie, 28 children and nine adults of relatively advanced age (greater than 34 years), were investigated and compared with those of age- and sex-matched healthy controls (13 children and 20 adults). Particular attention was devoted to cells with markers of natural killer (NK) activity. Double- and triple-color cytofluorimetric analysis was used to better characterize the phenotypic features of the different subsets. Apart from a reduced number of T lymphocytes (CD3+) in DS children and of B lymphocytes (CD19+) in both DS groups, the major alteration we found was a marked age-related increase of the percentage of cells bearing markers associated with NK activity, such as CD16, CD56, and CD57. These DS cells were apparently severely defective as far as their function was concerned, because NK activity was significantly reduced in comparison with age-matched controls, but still capable of responding to cytokines such as interleukin-2, interferon-beta, and interferon-gamma, and to the modulation of lytic activity exerted by the anti-CD16 monoclonal antibody. On the whole, our data stress the importance of studying DS subjects of different ages to fully appreciate the immunologic derangement characteristic of this syndrome.