We investigated the lymphocyte-activation antigens and the expression of cytokine genes in the mucosa of ulcerative colitis (UC). Fresh colonic mucosal biopsy specimens from patients with UC and controls were fixed for the immunohistochemical study of CD4, HLA-DR, and CD25, and other specimens were prepared for the RNA analysis of cytokines. Gene expression was evaluated by the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, and the radioactivity of dot-blotted amplified cDNA was standardized by co-amplified beta-actin cDNA. The inflamed mucosa of active UC showed increased CD4+DR+ and CD25+ cells in comparison with control subjects. Active UC showed significantly increased mRNA expression of IL-1 beta, IL-2R alpha, IL-6, IL-8, and TNF alpha compared with the controls. We found no significant difference in the mRNA expression for IL-2, IL-4, IL-10, and IFN-gamma between active UC and controls. Increased CD4+DR+ and CD25+ cells in active UC mucosa indicate mucosal CD4(+) T cell activation in the lamina propria, but we did not clarify Th1 or Th2 specific T cell activation from our study of cytokine mRNA expression. The increased mRNA expression for IL-1 beta, IL-6, and TNF alpha in the mucosal lesions of UC indicates that these inflammatory cytokines may play important roles in the pathogenesis of UC.