Augmented and prolonged expression of CD40 ligand (CD40L) was recently reported in lymphoid cells from human lupus patients, suggesting that CD40/CD40L pathway was involved in the pathogenesis of systemic autoimmune diseases. This study was thus designed to study the expression of CD40 and CD40L among cell populations within inflammatory joints of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The result showed that most B cells and monocytes in synovial fluids (SF) expressed CD40. Cultured synovial fibroblasts also stained positive for CD40. Regarding CD40L, we found that T cells as well as B cells could express CD40L. Compared with normal controls, RA patients had higher levels of CD40L+ T cells (8.71 +/- 17.69% vs 1.74 +/- 2.30%, P > 0.05) and CD40L+ B cells (7.71 +/- 7.64% vs 1.12 +/- 1.59% P < 0.05). After in vitro stimulation, T cells from RA patients had higher and longer CD40L expression than T cells from normal peripheral blood. For investigating the effect of CD40 expressed on synovial fibroblasts on TNF-alpha production in joint compartment, we used anti-CD40 antibody to bind CD40 on fibroblasts for one hour and then co-cultured with synovial fluid mononuclear cells. We found that the levels of TNF-alpha decreased in the presence of anti-CD40 antibody. We concluded that there was an intrinsic hyperexpression of CD40L on lymphoid cells within rheumatoid joints, and synovial fibroblasts could contribute to articular inflammation through surface CD40 molecule.