Abstract Gut immune responses have been suspected in food hypersensitivity reactions such as those to soyabean proteins in early-weaned piglets. The present study examines the lymphoid cell subset distribution in piglets fed heat-treated (HTSP) or ethanol-treated soyabean proteins (ETSP). Duodenal cryosections of 4-week-old HTSP piglets ( n = 10) and ETSP piglets ( n = 8) were analysed for IgA, IgM, IgG1 and IgG2 positive cells, CD2, CD4, CD8, WC1 T cell positive antigens using immunohistochemical peroxidase reactions. Densities of IgM+ and IgA+ cells were three times and, IgG1+ and IgG2+ six times higher in the lamina propria of HTSP piglets compared with ETSP ( P<0.05). Increased CD2+ T cells were accounted for by a rise in both CD4+ and CD8+ T cell subsets in the lamina propria ( P<0.01) as well as in the epithelium of the duodenal mucosa of piglets fed HTSP. The density of the WC1+ T cell subset in the epithelium was significantly higher in HTSP than in ETSP piglets ( P<0.01). Immune reactions in the duodenal mucosa, involving both B and T lymphocytes may be related to atrophy of the duodenal villi in HTSP piglets.