Low maternal dietary vitamin E (but not vitamin C) intake during pregnancy has been associated with increased in vitro cord blood mononuclear cell (CBMC) proliferative responses, childhood wheezing and asthma. We investigated whether these associations reflect direct effects of vitamin E by investigating the effects of supplementing CBMC cultures with physiological concentrations of vitamin E. CBMC from seventy neonates were cultured supplemented with either nothing, α-tocopherol or ascorbic acid. Proliferative, IFN-γ, IL-4, IL-10 and TGF-β responses were measured. In general, vitamin E supplementation was associated with a trend for reduced proliferative responses after stimulation with antigens and house dust mite, and with increased proliferation after stimulation with timothy grass allergen. There was a trend for CBMC cultures to exhibit decreased secretion of IFN-γ, IL-10 and IL-4. Supplementation with vitamin C had no effect on CBMC proliferation, but increased IFN-γ and IL-4 production, and decreased IL-10 production. In conclusion, in vitro vitamin E and C supplementation of CBMC modifies neonatal immune function, but not in a manner predicted by observational epidemiological studies. The observed associations between vitamin E and childhood respiratory disease are complex, and the nature and form of nutritional intervention need to be carefully considered before inclusion in trials.