Recurrent swelling of the parotid and submandibular salivary glands occurs in some patients with Sjögren's syndrome (SS). Using Southern blot methods, we analyzed immunoglobulin and T cell antigen receptor (TCAR) gene rearrangements in DNA obtained from salivary gland lymphocytes of 9 SS patients. Based on histologic appearance of the biopsy specimens, these patients were diagnosed as having myoepithelial sialadenitis. We found oligoclonal rearrangements of the kappa gene (4 patients) and lambda gene (1 patient), and oligoclonal rearrangement of the TCAR beta chain in 2 additional SS patients. Patients with Ig gene rearrangements did not show rearrangements of their TCAR gene, nor did patients with TCAR rearrangements exhibit Ig rearrangements. The observed oligoclonal rearrangements probably derive from 5-10% of the salivary gland B cells or T cells. Three of these SS patients developed non-Hodgkin's lymphoma 2-8 years after the initial biopsy. Our results suggest that minor populations of B cells or T cells may clonally expand in the salivary gland tissues of SS patients with pseudolymphoma, and that such lymphocyte expansions may be controlled by the endogenous immune response and/or medications. However, continued lymphoproliferation in these salivary gland tissues may eventually lead to emergence of a neoplastic clone that escapes immunologic control and develops into a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma as a result of a multistep process.