This is an observational study with the primary objective to measure donor-specific immune responses by pediatric liver transplant (LT) recipients, using cell surface expression of lymphocyte activation markers and cytokine secretion in mixed lymphocyte reactions. The secondary objective was to demonstrate possible mechanism(s) involved in those who demonstrated donor-specific hyporesponsiveness. Study participants included 17 recipients, their respective parental donors, the non-donor parent, as well as unrelated third party individuals. Within the CD4(+) population, two distinct patterns of CD69 and CD71 expressions were observed: recipients who had a lower percentage of CD4(+)CD69(+) and CD4(+)CD71(+) cells after donor versus non-donor stimulation (therefore a donor/non-donor ratio <1); and recipients who had a higher percentage of CD4(+)CD69(+) and CD4(+)CD71(+) cells after donor versus non-donor stimulation (therefore a donor/non-donor ratio >/=1). Eight recipients had the above defined ratio of <1, with significantly decreased interferon-gamma secretion after donor versus non-donor stimulation. CD4(+)CD25(hi.)CD127- regulatory T cells from these eight recipients suppressed donor and non-donor cell induced proliferation. Suppression of proliferation was partially abrogated by interleukin-2. In conclusion, CD69 and CD71 cell surface expression with interferon-gamma secretion can be used to identify two distinct populations in pediatric LT recipients. Both active regulation and anergy underlie donor specific hyporesponsiveness.