CD4+ T cells were separated into subpopulations according to their expression of different isoforms of the CD45R molecule, i.e. CD45RA and CD45RO. The separated cells were activated with staphylococcal enterotoxin A (SEA) in the presence of formalin fixed Raji cells. Each set of cells was activated twice with a 6-day interval, and the lymphokine gene expression during the first 3 days after initiation of each stimulation was followed by use of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology. The lymphokine messenger RNA (mRNA) profiles were found to differ between the subsets, since after the first stimulation the CD45RA+ cells produced mRNA encoding interleukin-2 (IL-2) and IL-1 alpha, whereas the CD45RO+ cells transcribed genes for IL-1 alpha, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5 and interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma). After 6 days of SEA stimulation both populations were mainly CD45RO reactive, and when restimulated displayed the lymphokine mRNA profile restricted to this subset. These results indicate that the CD45RA subset is a precursor of the CD45RO and further strengthen the hypothesis that the former cell population represents naive whereas the latter subset represents memory T cells within the CD4 subset.