To determine the extent to which pretransplant immunity resulting from natural infection protects against cytomegalovirus (CMV) disease, we analyzed CMV serology on 153 kidney donor and recipient pairs and followed transplant patients to determine incidence and severity of CMV disease. The overall incidence of CMV disease was 22%. Significant differences occurred in CMV disease incidence and severity, depending on the immune status of the kidney donor and recipient. Among recipients of kidneys from seropositive donors, immunity offered significant protection from CMV disease, reducing its incidence from 61% in nonimmune to 24% in immune patients (P less than 0.01). Pretransplant immune patients also had fever CMV-related complications. Among recipients of kidneys from seronegative donors, pretransplant immunity conferred a significant risk of CMV disease; immune patients had a 20% incidence of CMV disease compared with 2% in nonimmune patients (P less than 0.02). Disease was generally mild in all patients receiving kidneys from CMV infection had a 3-fold higher incidence of CMV disease than patients with reactivation infection (P less than 0.01). The incidence of CMV disease was similar in immune patients, whether they received a kidney from a seropositive or a seronegative donor. However, an important observation was that disease was significantly more severe in immune patients receiving a kidney from a seropositive donor (P less than 0.05). This indicates that if kidneys from seropositive donors are selected for use only in seropositive recipients, this places the immune patient at a higher risk for severe CMV disease. We conclude that pretransplant immunity offers a significant advantage to patients receiving kidneys from seropositive donors.