Cord blood is a potential source of hematopoietic stem cells for transplantation and is being used on a growing number of patients. However, there are concerns that cord blood might be contaminated with maternal cells that could lead to graft-versus-host disease. To ascertain the extent to which maternal cell contamination of cord blood occurs, we examined 49 cord blood samples from male babies for maternal cells by fluorescence in situ hybridization using probes to the X and Y chromosomes. A minimum of 1,000 nuclei were scored from each sample, and maternal cells were found in 7 of the 49 cord bloods, at levels ranging from 0.04% to 1.0%. In addition, in 39 and 27 of the cord blood samples, respectively, we examined the CD8+ and CD34+ cell populations for maternal cells. Maternal cells were found in 5 of the 39 CD8 fractions and in 1 of the 27 CD34 fractions, at levels similar to that found in the unfractionated cord blood. In sum, maternal cells were found in either the unseparated mononuclear fraction or the CD8 or CD34 fractions in 10 of the 49 cord blood samples (20%). These results show that maternal cells are present in a substantial number of cord bloods, and that some of these maternal cells are T cells.