Local humoral and cellular immune responses modulate the inflammatory processes involved in the development of atherosclerotic lesions, as well as in the evolution of brain infarcts in stroke patients. The role of systemic adaptive immunity on the progression of such disease manifestations is less clear. In the current study, we evaluated the percentages of T helper 1 (Th1) [interleukin (IL)-2, interferon (IFN)-γ] and Th2 (IL-4, IL-10) cytokine-producing peripheral blood CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in 23 patients with a history of ischaemic stroke (IS) at the chronic stable phase of the disease (median post-stroke time 34·5 months). Seven stroke-free individuals matched for age and vascular risk factors (matched controls, MC) were collected for comparison. To measure cytokine values at baseline and after stimulation, we used a flow cytometry method of intracellular cytokine staining. Intrinsic Th1 and Th2 cytokine production in unstimulated T cells was negligible in all study participants. Following mitogenic stimulation with phorbol 12-myristate13-acetate/ionomycin, both the IS and the MC groups exhibited a similarly strong Th1 response; IL-2 production predominated in the CD4+ T cells and IFN-γ in the CD8+ T cells. However, when measuring the Th2 cytokine-production capacity post-stimulation, a significant increase in the percentage of IL-4-producing T cells was observed in the IS groups, compared with the MC group, resulting in a significantly lower ratio of IFN-γ-/IL-4-producing T cells. No such Th2 enhancement could be confirmed for the case of IL-10. We propose that in IS patients there is a systemic shift of the immune system towards Th2 responses at the late post-acute phase of stroke.