The consumption of fish and sea mammals can be an important source of exposure to organochlorine compounds (OCs) and heavy metals in populations relying on seafood for subsistence. Exposure to these substances, especially during the prenatal period, has been shown to induce immunotoxic effects in mammals. Immunological status was assessed in 48 newborns from a remote maritime population living on the Lower and Mid North Shore of the St. Lawrence River (subsistence fishing group) and 60 newborns from the coastal urban center of Sept-Iles (reference group). Women were recruited upon arrival at Sept-Iles regional hospital to give birth. Cord blood samples were collected for organochlorine and heavy metal analyses and to isolate lymphocytes for immunological assays (proportions and functional responses of the main cellular subsets T, B, and NK (natural killer) cells. Concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and mercury were respectively three- and twofold higher, significantly greater, in the subsistence fishing group than in the reference group. Compared to the reference group, the subsistence fishing group showed significant decreases in the proportion of the naive helper T-cell subset CD4+CD45RA, T-cell proliferation following an in vitro mitogenic stimulation, and plasma immunoglobulin M (IgM) level, while plasma IgC level was increased. NK cytolytic activities were similar in both groups. The proportion of CD4+CD45RA cells was inversely correlated to mercury and PCBs, while T-cell clonal expansion was negatively associated with PCBs and p,p'-DDE. Mercury was inversely correlated to plasma IgM. Data show that subtle functional alterations of the developing human immune system may result from in utero exposure to OCs and mercury. Epidemiological studies are needed to determine the relevance of these alterations in predicting detrimental health effects in the developing child.