The presence of activated T cells in the synovial membrane of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) suggests a role for these cells in the pathogenesis of the disease. Recent evidence indicates that human T cells may fall into functional categories dependent on their cytokine profile and cytotoxic capacity. The human Th1 subset is cytolytic and produces high levels of IFN-gamma whereas the Th2 type of T cell produces IL-4. In order to investigate whether Th1 or Th2 type cells are present in the inflammatory synovial membrane in RA, a panel of synovial membrane derived T-cell clones (n = 19) was generated and studied functionally. Anti-CD3-induced cytotoxicity assays were performed to demonstrate the cytotoxic potential of clones. Except for two, all clones were cytolytic in this test. Clone cells were activated to initiate cytokine production and assessment of the cytokine levels showed that all clones produced large amounts of IFN-gamma (18 out of 19 clones: over 50,000 pg/ml) whereas IL-4 was absent or present in minimal amounts (17 out of 19 clones: less than 1000 pg/ml). The production of IL-1, IL-2 and IL-6 was variable. The functional characteristics of the clones studied indicate that they may resemble the Th1 subtype of T cells. Our data suggest a relation between Th1-type functions the chronic inflammation characteristic of RA.