Synovial membrane samples obtained at knee arthroplasty from 22 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) were characterized histologically. Two groups were identified. Tissue samples from 15 patients demonstrated multiple focal lymphoid aggregates of mononuclear cells (group A). Samples from the remaining seven patients demonstrated diffuse mononuclear cell infiltration (group B). Samples of each synovial membrane (0.25 g) were cultured for cytokine production. The highest levels of IL-1 beta and IL-6 were produced by group A tissues: 19.1 +/- 19.6 ng/ml IL-1 beta (mean +/- s.d.) and 264.4 +/- 301.9 ng/ml IL-6, versus 3.8 +/- 6.6 ng/ml and 54.7 +/- 42.6 ng/ml respectively. Small quantities of IL-2 and IL-4 were measured in both groups: the levels of IL-2 in group A cultures were highest (P = 0.04). Moreover, using MoAbs, the most intense cytokine staining in the tissues was detected in group A. Similar total numbers of each cell subpopulation and similar quantities of immunoglobulin and rheumatoid factor synthesis were measured in both groups. It is suggested that the presence of multiple focal lymphoid aggregates associated with higher levels of cytokine production observed in group A represent a greater degree of immunological activation, and may represent a subgroup of patients with a greater potential for articular destruction.