One hundred five trauma patients admitted to three trauma centers with Injury Severity Scores of 20 or greater had lymphocyte phenotypic subsets characterized throughout their hospital course. Total lymphocytes, pan-T (CD2), helper T (CD4), suppressor T (CD8), pan B (CD20), and DR expressing lymphocytes were quantitated by monoclonal antibodies and flow cytometric analysis. Results were analyzed between three patient groups: uninfected, uneventful recovery (n = 64); major infection (n = 26); and dead (n = 15; 7 with sepsis). A significant lymphopenia, maximal at 3 days, occurred in the first postinjury week compared with controls (p < 0.05), which recovered over the study period. A hierarchical distribution was found between the three outcome groups with the lowest numbers of several lymphocyte phenotypes in those who died. T helper and suppressor cells were similarly affected, but lowest in patients destined to develop infection or die. The helper-suppressor ratio, however, was similar in all three outcome groups. Therefore, modulation early after injury aimed at restoring these subsets may reduce the risk of subsequent infection.