Although many studies are focused on auto-reactive CD4(+) T cells, the precise role of CD8(+) T cells in autoimmunity is poorly understood. The objective of this study is to provide more insight into the phenotype and function CD8(+) T cells during the development of autoimmune disease by studying CD8(+) T cells in human lymph-node biopsies and peripheral blood obtained during the earliest phases of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Here, we show that lymphoid pro-inflammatory CD8(+) T cells exhibit a less-responsive phenotype already during the earliest phases of autoimmunity compared with healthy individuals. We found an increase in CD8(+) memory T cells in lymphoid tissue during the earliest phases of autoimmunity, even before clinical onset of RA, accompanied by an increased frequency of non-circulating or recently activated (CD69(+)) CD8(+) T cells in lymphoid tissue and peripheral blood. Importantly, lymphoid pro-inflammatory CD8(+)IL-17A(+) T cells displayed a decreased capacity of cytokine production, which was related to disease activity in early RA patients. In addition, a decreased frequency of regulatory CD8(+)IL-10(+) T cells in peripheral blood was also related to disease activity in early RA patients. Our results suggest that different CD8(+) T-cell subsets are affected already during the earliest phases of systemic autoimmunity.