Interleukin-16 is a soluble ligand to the CD4 molecule with chemotactic properties for CD4+ cells and a competence growth factor for CD4+ T cells, upregulating HLA-DR and the interleukin-2 receptor CD25. There is also evidence for a synergistic effect of interleukin-16 and interleukin-2 on the activation of CD4+ T cells. The infiltrate in mycosis fungoides, the most common cutaneous T cell lymphoma, is typically CD4+. We tested the possibility that interleukin-16 is involved in the formation and progression of these lesions. By reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, interleukin-16 mRNA was detected in 18 of 18 mycosis fungoides lesions investigated. By competitive reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, interleukin-16 mRNA expression increased with disease stage. Secreted interleukin-16 was detected by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay in both Th1- and Th2-like T cell clones (as characterized by their production of interferon-gamma and interleukin-4) grown from lesional dermis and epidermis. By immunohistochemistry and in situ hybridization, infiltrating lymphocytes were the main producers of interleukin-16 whereas keratinocytes and endothelial cells remained negative. Atypical cells with convoluted nuclei were also positive. In advanced mycosis fungoides stages, many blast-like cells were positive, but some larger blasts remained negative. Interleukin-16 expression correlated positively with the expression of interleukin-2 and its receptor CD25 in individual skin lesions. Interleukin-2 expression, however, was weak or absent in samples from uninvolved skin, healthy controls and lesional psoriasis. Given the biologic properties of interleukin-16 and the parallel activation of the interleukin-2/CD25 pathway, interleukin-16 might be involved in the recruitment and stimulation of CD4+ lymphocytes in mycosis fungoides lesions and therefore contribute to the perpetuation of the associated cutaneous inflammation.