CD4+ T cells lacking the costimulatory molecule CD28 have been described both in elderly individuals and in chronic inflammatory disorders, one being rheumatoid arthritis (RA). We, in this study, provide a comprehensive characterization of cell surface markers on and function of such CD28nullCD4+ T cells, as well as correlations with clinical parameters. We conclude that of all surface markers associated with these cells, only CD57 and CD11b are expressed on the majority of them. This CD28null population occurred in one-third of patients with RA and was independent of clinical characteristics. The population was persistent and expanded in peripheral blood, but was excluded from the joint in most patients. Functionally, CD28nullCD4+ T cells were potent effector memory cells with regard to their proliferation and cytokine-secretion profiles. This capacity correlated with a hitherto unpublished surface phenotype, the cells being uniformly CCR7- and CD43high. Moreover, a new terminally differentiated CD45RA+CCR7- population of CD4+ T cells was identified. We would like to suggest that in the unbalanced immune system of patients with autoimmune disease and chronic infection an expanded CD28nullCD4+ T-cell population able to secrete high levels of cytokines is likely to contribute to disease manifestations.