We have investigated the usage of T cell receptor (TcR) V beta gene structures in DA rats undergoing homologous collagen-induced arthritis induced by immunization with homologous collagen type II emulsified in Freund's incomplete adjuvant. TcR V beta expression within freshly isolated inflamed synovial tissue (ST) and primary draining lymph nodes was analyzed in a semi-quantitative polymerase chain reaction assay. A highly restricted TcR V beta gene expression was observed in ST samples 2 days after onset of clinical disease, with V beta 6, 8.2 and 8.5 comprising more than 60% of the total V beta expression measured. The corresponding primary draining lymph nodes from the diseased animals showed some bias in V beta expression at this time but not as remarkable as that found in ST. One week after onset of disease, consistent V beta gene bias was much less evident in either site. These results indicate that T cells which infiltrate synovia early in disease are highly restricted with respect to V beta expression.