Although a role for CD8+ T cells in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has been suggested, the precise nature of their involvement is not fully understood. In the present study we examined the central and effector memory phenotypes of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in the peripheral blood of patients with RA and systemic lupus erythematosus. Terminally differentiated effector memory CD45RA+CD62L-CD8+ T cells were significantly decreased in RA patients, whereas the central memory CD45RA-CD62L+ CD8+ T-cell population was increased as compared with levels in healthy control individuals. Naïve and preterminally differentiated effector memory CD45RA-CD62L- CD8+ T cells did not differ between RA patients and control individuals. The CD45RA-CD62L+ central memory CD4+ T-cell subpopulation was increased in RA patients, whereas the naïve and effector memory phenotype of CD4+ T cells did not differ between RA patients and control individuals. In patients with systemic lupus erythematosus the distribution of naïve/memory CD4+ and CD8+ T cells did not differ from that in age- and sex-matched control individuals. These findings show that peripheral blood CD8+ T cells from RA patients exhibit a skewed maturation phenotype that suggests a perturbation in the homeostasis of these cells. The central memory CD45RA-CD62L+ CD4+ and CD8+ T-cell numbers were increased in RA, suggesting an accelerated maturation of naïve T cells. The decreased numbers of terminally differentiated CD45RA+CD62L- effector memory CD8+ T cells in peripheral blood of RA patients may reflect increased apoptosis of these cells or enhanced migration of these cells to sites of inflammation, which may play a role in the pathogenesis of RA.