T-cell cytokines play a crucial role in the pathogenesis and progression of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Their detection in the joint, however, is impaired by the complex network present in the synovium. Although many synovial T cells show signs of previous activation, only a few express interleukin (IL)-2 receptor, marker of recent activation. The aim of this study was to analyse the cytokine production by in vivo activated (IL-2R +) T cells from RA at different stages of the disease. For this purpose, T cells were isolated from peripheral blood and synovial fluid of four patients with active RA, two at the onset of the disease, one in the early phase during treatment, one in long-lasting chronic phase. One patient was studied at the onset of the disease and 52 months later. Cells were initially expanded with a low dose of IL-2, cloned and analysed for cytokine production. The results showed a strong predominance of T helper (Th) 1 clones in the blood and a slight prevalence of Th0 clones in the joint of all the four patients. Interferon-gamma and IL-2 production was higher in the long-lasting RA, whereas IL-4 synthesis was prevalent in early RA. Enrichment in IL-10-producing clones was present only in the joint of the untreated patients. The longitudinal study confirmed the differences in cytokine production between early and late phases of disease. These data confirm that RA is mainly a Th1-driven condition. However, in vivo activated synovial T cells produce also Th2-type anti-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-4 and IL-10. The synthesis of both cytokines is a feature of the very early phase of RA, although the selective recruitment of IL-10-producing T cells is quickly lost.