In this work we have furthered the understanding of the alterations of T lymphocytes from 29 patients with active autoimmune thrombocytopenic purpura (ATP) and the clinical significance of their lymphocytes. An increased percentage of in vivo activated (CD25+ and DR+) T lymphocytes was found in ATP patients with respect to that found in 22 healthy controls. The function of these T cells measured as the proliferative response to polyclonal mitogenic signals is heterogeneously impaired in ATP patients. T lymphocytes from 65.5% (19/29) of the ATP patients showed a decreased proliferative response to these mitogenic signals. This functional alteration is associated with a redistribution of the T cell compartment in these patients' peripheral blood since a significant decrease of CD4+ T lymphocytes was found. We have also found that the impairment of the T cell function is different in the diverse clinical situations of the disease. Those with stable, untreated disease showed a marked decrease in the T cell proliferative response to mitogens. Furthermore, those patients who did not respond either to steroids or to splenectomy showed significantly reduced T lymphocyte blastogenesis after phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) stimulation in comparison to that found in responding patients.