Recent experimental and clinical data point to the T helper lymphocyte subset as playing a central role in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Thus, a therapeutic strategy aimed specifically at the CD4 T cell subset is warranted. We treated patients with active RA for 7 days with a daily dose of 20 mg of CD4 monoclonal antibody M-T151, administered intravenously over 30 minutes. There were no negative side effects. According to changes in the combined parameters of Ritchie articular index, pain assessment, grip strength, and morning stiffness, 6 patients had a good response. Clinical improvement was greatest approximately 2 weeks after termination of the therapy and lasted from 4 weeks to 6 months. Of the serologic parameters of inflammation, only the C-reactive protein level improved in the patients with a favorable response. Close immunologic monitoring revealed a transient, selective depletion of CD4+ T cells after each infusion. During the entire treatment period, residual circulating CD4+ cells were found to be coated with CD4 antibody, whereas free antibody was detected in the serum only for approximately 8 hours after each infusion. Immediately after infusion, soluble CD4 antigen appeared in the serum. In addition to the cell-bound CD4 antibody, complement components could be detected on the surface of the remaining CD4+ cells. The proliferative response of peripheral blood mononuclear cells to purified protein derivative was significantly diminished 4 weeks after cessation of antibody treatment. Six patients showed a weak antibody response to mouse immunoglobulin. In 4 of the responders who received a second course of therapy (2 of them as outpatients), a therapeutic effect was noted that was similar to that after the first course. Only 1 patient, who had low titers of serum IgE anti-mouse Ig antibodies, showed a mild anaphylactic reaction at the end of the second course of therapy. Treatment of RA with the monoclonal CD4 antibody M-T151 seems to be a promising alternative, although the optimal dose and the regimen of administration are still to be defined.