Data concerning the presence of T-cell-derived cytokines in the rheumatic joint are conflicting, challenging the hypothesis that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a T-cell-mediated disease. In this study synovial tissue specimens of 11 patients with RA and eight patients with osteoarthritis (OA) were stained for interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) and its receptor. The level of expression of IFN-gamma was compared with that in tissue specimens of delayed-type hypersensitivity (DTH) reactions of the skin and of chronic tonsillitis. Furthermore, the percentage of T-lymphocytes which stained positive for IFN-gamma was determined using double staining techniques. IFN-gamma and its receptor were detected in all patients with RA and in 7/8 and 3/8, respectively, of patients with OA. Expression of IFN-gamma (P<0.02) and IFN-gamma receptor (P<0.01) in synovial tissue of patients with RA was more abundant compared with that in patients with OA. Although IFN-gamma could be detected in RA synovial tissue, the level of expression was less when compared with DTH reactions of the skin and tonsillitis. The percentage of CD3+ cells being positive for IFN-gamma was approximately 1% in RA, whereas in DTH reactions of the skin it was >90% and in tonsillitis approximately 30%. We conclude that the presence of IFN-gamma and its receptor in RA synovial tissue suggests a role for this cytokine in the ongoing immunological reaction of the inflamed joint.