The intestinal population of gamma delta T cell receptor (TCR)-bearing cells was characterized with regard to V delta and V gamma subtype expression. For this purpose, we utilized V gene-specific PCR of mRNA prepared from intestinal biopsies. Predominant expression of the V delta 1 subtype was demonstrated in the small intestine of patients with coeliac disease and in the inflamed colon of patients with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD: ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease) as well as in colon biopsies taken from macroscopically normal areas of colon. Although intestinal gamma delta T cells preferentially expressed V delta 1, other V delta transcripts could be detected, of which V delta 2 and V delta 5 were commonly expressed. Analysis of biopsies from mesenteric lymph nodes demonstrated a V delta repertoire similar to the mucosa. In peripheral blood on the other hand, high expression of both V delta 2 and V delta 1 was found. The predominant expression of V delta 1 transcripts in the intestinal mucosa of IBD patients correlated well with protein cell surface expression as analysed by flow cytometry using V delta 1- and V delta 2-specific antibodies. Selective expansion of gamma delta T cells could not be demonstrated within the inflamed mucosa as shown by mRNA analysis and flow cytometry. Instead, IBD patients demonstrated a decreased proportion of TCR gamma delta-carrying T cells in the inflamed mucosa compared with macroscopically normal area of colon. On the other hand, a significantly increased percentage of T cells bearing the gamma delta TCR was found in peripheral blood of patients with Crohn's disease compared with healthy individuals, indicating that local mucosal inflammation may influence the circulating gamma delta T cell population.