The aim of this work was to determine differences in pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokine and adhesion molecule expression in synovial tissue from patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or osteoarthritis (OA). Synovial tissue samples were obtained from patients with RA and OA, and from healthy individuals. The expression of mRNA of interleukin (IL)-1beta, IL-4, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, IL-13, tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) and transforming growth-factor-beta1 (TGF-beta1) was evaluated by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). In addition, IL-8 and IL-10 transcripts were measured by quantitative PCR. The expression of IL-8 and IL-10 proteins was determined by immunoperoxidase staining. To evaluate the inflammatory stage of synovial tissue, vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) and intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) protein expression was also determined. RA patients were found to display higher levels of adhesion molecules than patients with OA. PCR analysis showed a similar profile of cytokine transcripts between the OA and RA groups. Gene expression of IL-4 and IL-13 in synovium was undetectable. In contrast, IL-1beta, IL-6, IL-8, IL-10, TNF-alpha and TGF-beta1 transcripts were expressed by both groups. Increased levels of IL-8 and IL-10 transcripts and their proteins were observed in synovium from RA patients when compared to patients with OA and healthy controls. Thus, our data show that IL-8, IL-10, ICAM-1 and VCAM-1 expression levels are higher in synovial tissue from patients with RA than in similar tissue from patients with OA.