The purpose of this study was to assess lymphocyte receptors expression in patients with ischemic heart diseases, as well as to measure the plasma levels of interleukin (IL) 2, 6 and 10. T Lymphocytes are found in large numbers in human atherosclerotic plaques, indicating that immune and inflammatory mechanisms are important factors in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. Recent data have also implicated T lymphocytes in the pathogenetic mechanism of unstable angina and ischemic heart disease. Three groups of patients were studied: 42 with an acute ischemic syndrome (AIS), 36 with stable angina (SA) and 39 healthy controls. To characterize lymphocyte phenotype, flow cytometry was performed in whole-blood samples. IL-2, IL-6 and IL-10 were measured using the ELISA method. Double fluorescence evaluation showed an increase in CD8+/CD11b+ cells (cytotoxic T lymphocytes) and in CD11b+/CD16+CD56+ cells (NK lymphocytes) in the AIS group and in SA group as compared to the control group (P < 0.05 and P < 0.001, respectively). IL-2 was increased in the AIS and SA groups compared to the control group (AIS 4.5 +/- 0.5 pg/ml; SA 6.3 +/- 0.6 pg/ml; controls 2.4 +/- 0.8 pg/ml, P < 0.05), whereas IL-6 was higher in the AIS group than in the other two groups (AIS 10.8 +/- 1.8 pg/ml; SA 1.8 +/- 0.8 pg/ml; controls 1.2 +/- 0.6 pg/ml, P < 0.0001). These data show that patients with ischemic heart disease have an increase in circulating cytotoxic T lymphocytes and in IL-2 plasma levels, irrespective of their clinical presentation, compared to normal control subjects, whereas IL-6 is elevated only in patients with AIS.