Intestinal T lymphocytes are normally unresponsive to microbial and recall antigens in vitro, whereas the same antigens induce strong immune responses in peripheral-blood-derived T cells. We obtained T lymphocytes from peripheral blood and from the non-inflamed and inflamed intestinal mucosa of 6 patients (3 male, 3 female; mean age 33 years) with Crohn's disease. The T cells were stimulated in vitro with a range of microbial antigens. Whereas T cells from normal mucosa were unresponsive, those from inflamed mucosa had a proliferative response comparable to that of the peripheral-blood-derived T cells. These findings suggest that physiologic unresponsiveness to luminal antigens is abrogated in the inflammatory lesions of Crohn's disease patients. Infiltrating T lymphocytes may therefore mediate chronic inflammation on encountering the many antigens present in the intestine.