With the aim of investigating the distribution of T cells expressing different T-cell receptors (TCR) in the inflamed synovial tissue of rheumatoid arthritis patients, we have used the polymerase chain reaction to amplify TCR V alpha and V beta transcripts from synovial biopsies obtained by arthroscopy from patients with arthritis of variable duration. From each of nine patients a single biopsy was taken. Southern hybridization analysis of amplified products revealed extensive heterogeneity of TCR V beta in most patients. On the other hand, restriction in V alpha gene expression was seen in several patients. A highly restricted V alpha repertoire was observed in all cases with arthritis of short duration. In addition, two of three samples of short duration yielded a more limited number of V beta transcripts than the others. No conformity was, however, seen in usage of individual V alpha and V beta transcripts among the investigated patients. The present data thus demonstrate variability in synovial TCR expression between rheumatoid arthritis patients, but they also indicate a development towards greater diversity with increasing disease duration, implicating the necessity for careful choice of cases, preferentially selecting for early stages of disease, when further analysing rheumatoid synovial T cells for TCR usage as well as for antigen specificity.