The lifespan of thymic-derived or T lymphocytes is of particular interest because of their central role in immunological memory. Is the recall of a vaccination or early infection, which may be demonstrated clinically up to 50 years after antigen exposure, retained by a long-lived cell, or by its progeny? Using the observation that T lymphocyte expression of isoforms of CD45 corresponds with their ability to respond to recall antigens, we have investigated the lifespan of both CD45R0 (the subset containing responders, or 'memory' cells) and CD45RA (the unresponsive, or 'naive' subset) lymphocytes in a group of patients after radiotherapy. Here we report rapid loss of unstable chromosomes from the CD45R0 but not the CD45RA pool. Immunological memory therefore apparently resides in a population with a more rapid rate of division. Differing survival curves for the two subsets are best described by a model in which there is also reversion in vivo from the CD45R0 to the CD45RA phenotype. Expression of CD45R0 in T cells may therefore be reversible.