Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease characterized by proliferative synovial tissue. We used mRNA differential display and library subtraction to compare mRNA expression in RA and osteoarthritis (OA) synoviocytes. We initially compared the mRNA expression patterns in 1 female RA and 1 OA synovia and found a differentially expressed 350 bp transcript in the RA synoviocytes which was, by sequence analysis, 100% homologous to sperm protein 17 (Sp17). Moreover, the Sp17 transcript was found differentially expressed in a RA synovial library that was subtracted with an OA synovial library. Using specific primers for full length Sp17, a 1.1 kb transcript was amplified from the synoviocytes of 7 additional female RA patients, sequenced and found to 100% homologous to Sp17. Thus, we found the unexpected expression of Sp17, a thought to be gamete-specific protein, in the synoviocytes of 8/8 female RA patients in contrast to control OA synoviocytes. Interestingly, Sp17's structural relationship with cell-binding and recognition proteins, suggests that Sp17 may function in cell-cell recognition and signaling in the RA synoviocyte. Further, Sp17 could have a significant regulatory role in RA synoviocyte gene transcription and/or signal transduction. Thus, Sp17 could have an important role in RA synoviocyte proliferation or defective apoptosis. Finally, the presence of Sp17 in synoviocytes has interesting developmental considerations.