The objective of this study was to elucidate whether calves born to infected dams had been primed against Schistosoma mattheei antigens. Infection-confirmed, pregnant cows were randomly selected for monitoring their offspring. Pre-colostral serum was collected from the neonates for the detection of specific antibodies at birth, as they indicate a transplacental transfer of schistosome-specific antibodies and antigen. At the age of approximately 2 months, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of calves were analysed for specific memory by antigen-specific stimulation in vitro. Twenty-six of the 30 calves demonstrated S. mattheei-specific proliferation. All 12 seropositive-born, as well as 14 of the 18 seronegative-born (before colostrum uptake) calves displayed mattheei-specific proliferation. The results indicate that the calves were primed against S. mattheei and might explain why seropositive-born calves from infected dams are better protected against S. mattheei, and query the impermeability of the damaged ruminant placenta with consequences for antigen transfer. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.