The participation of the humoral immune system in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterized by the production of rheumatoid factors (RF). RF are autoantibodies against the Fc part of IgG which are encoded by diverse germ-line genes. Most of the RF-encoding genes are unmutated, but in RA, a substantial quantity is encoded by somatically mutated genes. In addition, the synovial membranes (SM) of the diseased joints of RA patients are infiltrated by B lymphocytes which form germinal center-like aggregates. To analyze the local immune response, B cell foci from two RA SM were isolated by micromanipulation. From DNA of these foci, the rearranged kappa light chain variable region (V kappa) genes were amplified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), cloned and sequenced. The amplification of different V kappa-J kappa combinations of different foci suggested oligoclonal expansion of B lymphocytes, which was confirmed by sequence analysis: each PCR product contained members of a single B cell clone. The sequence analysis of 29 different clones revealed rearrangements of diverse V kappa genes. Both frequent representatives of the V kappa 3 and the V kappa 1 family, as well as rarely used genes such as the L10 and B2 genes of the V kappa 2 and V kappa 5 families were found. Of the eleven potentially functional gene rearrangements, eight were significantly mutated, indicating their derivation from antigen-selected B cells. Intraclonal diversity in one of these clones may suggest ongoing mutation in the diseased synovial membrane of patients with RA.