BACKGROUND: The antigen-specific T cell responses of preterm infants to immunization are not well understood. The aim of the present study was to compare the T cell responses of preterm infants after inactivated poliovirus vaccination with those of term infants. METHODS: We prospectively enrolled 2-month-old preterm (gestational age, 33 weeks) and term (gestational age, 37 weeks) infants to receive 3 doses of diphtheria-tetanus toxoids-acellular pertussis-hepatitis B virus-inactivated poliovirus vaccine. Whole blood and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were stimulated with poliovirus vaccine, and memory T cell activation was analyzed by flow cytometry and lymphoproliferation, respectively. Levels of poliovirus neutralizing antibodies were measured in serum. RESULTS: We enrolled 33 preterm and 50 term infants. Preterm infants had fewer circulating CD4(+)CD45RO(+) memory (P = .005) and CD4(+)CD69(+)IFN-gamma(+) cells activated by staphylococcus enterotoxin B at 2 (P = .015) and 7 (P = .05) months of age. After immunization, preterm and term infants had comparable frequencies of poliovirus-specific CD4(+)CD45RO(+)CD69(+)IFN-gamma(+) memory T cells (P = .79). PBMCs from preterm infants had diminished poliovirus-specific lymphoproliferation (P<.001). Although all infants developed seroprotective poliovirus antibody titers, serotype 1 titers were lower among preterm infants (P = .03). CONCLUSIONS: Preterm infants develop poliovirus-specific T cell responses that are comparable to those of term infants. However, they demonstrate nonspecific and poliovirus-specific functional T cell limitations, suggesting that investigations into whether T cell differences remain as preterm infants mature are warranted.