BACKGROUND: Identifying differences and similarities between cutaneous lymphocyte antigen (CLA)(+) polarized T-cell subsets in children versus adults with atopic dermatitis (AD) is critical for directing new treatments toward children. OBJECTIVE: We sought to compare activation markers and frequencies of skin-homing (CLA(+)) versus systemic (CLA(-)) "polar" CD4 and CD8 T-cell subsets in patients with early pediatric AD, adults with AD, and control subjects. METHODS: Flow cytometry was used to measure CD69/inducible costimulator/HLA-DR frequency in memory cell subsets, as well as IFN-gamma, IL-13, IL-9, IL-17, and IL-22 cytokines, defining TH1/cytotoxic T (TC) 1, TH2/TC2, TH9/TC9, TH17/TC17, and TH22/TC22 populations in CD4 and CD8 cells, respectively. We compared peripheral blood from 19 children less than 5 years old and 42 adults with well-characterized moderate-to-severe AD, as well as age-matched control subjects (17 children and 25 adults). RESULTS: Selective inducible costimulator activation (P < .001) was seen in children. CLA(+) TH2 T cells were markedly expanded in both children and adults with AD compared with those in control subjects, but decreases in CLA(+) TH1 T-cell numbers were greater in children with AD (17% vs 7.4%, P = .007). Unlike in adults, no imbalances were detected in CLA(-) T cells from pediatric patients with AD nor were there altered frequencies of TH22 T cells within the CLA(+) or CLA(-) compartments. Adults with AD had increased frequencies of IL-22-producing CD4 and CD8 T cells within the skin-homing population, compared with controls (9.5% vs 4.5% and 8.6% vs 2.4%, respectively; P < .001), as well as increased HLA-DR activation (P < .01). CONCLUSIONS: These data suggest that TH2 activation within skin-homing T cells might drive AD in children and that reduced counterregulation by TH1 T cells might contribute to excess TH2 activation. TH22 "spreading" of AD is not seen in young children and might be influenced by immune development, disease chronicity, or recurrent skin infections.