The phenotypic markers of mononuclear cells in synovial tissue from 19 patients with active rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were identified by a dual immunofluorescent method. The mononuclear cells were isolated from synovial tissue by mechanical disaggregation and an enzymatic digestion technique. The results revealed a marked reduction in CD4+2H4+ cells (suppressor inducer T cells) and an increment in CD4+4B4+ cells (helper T cells) among CD4+ cells in synovial tissue. The percentage of CD8+CD11b+ cells (suppressor effector T cells) was significantly lower in synovial tissue than in peripheral blood from patients with RA, resulting in an increased percentage of CD8+CD11b-- cells (cytotoxic T cells). The synovial tissue had higher percentages of pan B cells (B1+ cells), differentiated B cells (B1+B2-- cells) and plasma cells (PCA-1+ cells). These findings suggest that a combination of the increment in helper T cells, the reduction in suppressor T cells, and the increment in differentiated B cells may lead to excessive production of autoantibodies.