Hematopoiesis is developmentally immature in the newborn compared with the adult. Diminished gene expression of several positive hematopoietic regulators has been observed in activated cord compared with adult peripheral blood mononuclear cells (MNC; Cairo et al. Pediatr Res, 30:362, 1991 and Cairo et al, Pediatr Res, 31:574, 1992). However, altered expression of negative hematopoietic regulators during states of increased demand may also contribute to the pathogenesis of newborn dyshematopoiesis. To test this hypothesis, we measured protein levels of transforming growth factor-beta 1 (TGF-beta 1) and macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha (MIP-1 alpha) in the conditioned media of human umbilical cord and adult MNC using specific enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. There was significantly less TGF-beta 1 in culture supernatants of cord versus adult MNC after 24, 72, and 120 hours of stimulation (P < .05), and significantly less MIP-1 alpha in cord versus adult supernatants after 72 hours and 120 hours of stimulation (P < .01). We then examined the mRNA expression of the negative regulators TGF-beta 1, MIP-1 alpha, and interleukin-8 (IL-8) in cord and adult MNC using Northern blot hybridization followed by quantitative densitometry. Cord MNC expressed significantly less TGF- beta 1 mRNA than adult MNC 6 hours and 72 hours after stimulation (P < .001). Cord MNC expressed significantly less MIP-1 alpha mRNA than adult MNC 6 hours (P < .01), 24 hours (P < .001), and 72 hours after stimulation (P < .001). Cord MNC also expressed significantly less IL-8 mRNA than adult MNC 6 hours after stimulation (P < .001). Therefore, decreased mRNA accumulation appears to coincide with reduced cytokine expression in the activated cord MNC. There were no significant differences in the transcription rates determined by nuclear run-on assay of either the TGF-beta 1 or MIP-1 alpha gene in cord versus adult MNC after 6 hours of stimulation, suggesting that the reduced TGF-beta 1 and MIP-1 alpha mRNA in activated cord MNC may be secondary to alteration in posttranscriptional regulation. The present results, together with those of our previous studies, suggest that the altered expression of both positive and negative hematopoietic regulators may be involved in the immaturity of host defense in human neonates.