The T cell receptor (TCR) V beta gene segment repertoire of T lymphocytes derived from peripheral blood of two healthy individuals and synovial tissue, synovial fluid and peripheral blood of three rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients was analyzed. A sensitive assay based on the amplification of cDNA by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) was used to analyze the levels of expression of 20 TCR V beta gene segment families. The relative expression of V beta gene segments in lymphocytes derived from peripheral blood, synovial tissue and synovial fluid was conserved over 155 days in one patient. V beta 9 transcripts were undetectable in the cells of this individual. In the two other patients the frequency of V beta 2 transcripts in synovial T cells of affected joints was significantly higher than in their peripheral blood lymphocytes. Dominance of distinct rearrangements among the V beta 2 transcripts from the synovial cells of these patients support the idea that the synovial T cell response is driven by antigen.