We have developed an enzymatic technique for isolating human intestinal mucosal lymphoid cells. This method was found to be superior to mechanical methods in regard to cell yield and survival. It is based on treating mucosa with serum-free solutions containing collagenase and deoxyribonuclease, followed by isolating the lymphoid cells through centrifugation steps involving fetal calf serum and ficoll-hypaque. Exposure of peripheral blood lymphocytes to the components of the enzymatic solution did not appreciably alter their uptake of tritiated thymidine in the presence or absence of mitogens. Application of the method to derive lymphoid cells from Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and normal intestinal mucosa has shown that gut mucosal lymphocytes from inflammatory bowel disease (1) exceed the number of those from normal mucosa by a factor of 3 to 5; (2) show different degrees of tritiated thymidine uptake, spontaneously and in response to mitogens, depending upon the time they are harvested during the dissociation process; (3) are better stimulators than responders in the allogeneic mixed lymphocyte reaction; (4) generate suppressor cell activity comparable to that of peripheral blood lymphocytes; (5) cannot, in contrast to peripheral blood lymphocytes, generate antibody-dependent cell mediated cytotoxicity; and (6) produce an average of 5 times more IgM than equal numbers of peripheral blood lymphocytes.