Cytokine-induced killer (CIK) cells are immune effector cells characterized by co-expression of CD3 and CD56 molecules. We examined the quantities of CIK cells and the changes of these cell expressing NK cell receptors in HIV-1-positive children infected via mother-to-child transmission. The percentage of CIK cells was quantified and the changes in the surface cell receptor profiles in 18 HIV-1-infected children were examined. We found that CIK cell percentages were dramatically increased in HIV-1-infected children. Furthermore, the expressions of CD16, NKp30, NKp44, NKp46, NKp80 and CD244 on CIK cells were decreased, while the expressions of KIR3DL1 and NKG2D on CIK cells were increased in HIV-1-infected children. However, the expressions of KIR2D and NTB-A on CIK cells did not change in the HIV-1-infected children. CIK cells possessed the characteristics of promoting the maturation of dendritic cells and killing functions in HIV-1-infected children. Moreover, serum concentrations of IL-4 and IFN-γ were significantly increased in HIV-1-infected children compared with the HIV-negative controls. These changes likely occurred as a protective mechanism against transmission of maternal HIV-1 virus and thereby helped to limit viral spread, eliminate infected cells and help HIV-1-infected patients to slow the progression to AIDS.