Immunoregulatory T-cell deficiency is thought to underlie pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) as a systemic autoimmunopathy. The aim of this study was a simultaneous analysis of peripheral blood and synovial lymphocyte subsets (Ly-SS) of RA patients as compared to patients with locally active osteoarthritis (OA). Peripheral blood Ly-SS and paired synovial fluid Ly-SS from 87 RA patients were analysed by two dimensional flow cytometry (Simulset Becton Dickinson) as compared to 15 OA patients. The control group consisted of 32 healthy subjects. The peripheral blood analysis from RA and OA patients revealed a significant decrease of CD8+ T-cells and increase of CD4+: CD8+ ratio when compared to the control group. The blood of RA patients showed a significant increase of HLA DR+ and IL 2R+ T cells as compared to OA group. The synovial fluid from RA and OA patients showed a significant increase of CD3+, CD8+, HLA DR+ T-cells and decrease of CD4+:CD8+ ratio and CD19+ cells in comparison to the peripheral blood. This study shows, that the OA T-cell system seems not to be activated in peripheral blood in opposition to RA patients. Synovial fluid Ly-SS in OA, however, showed only quantitative but not qualitative differences. OA seems to be mainly a local inflammatory response depending on T-cells, when lymphocyte T activity in blood is diminished.