Peritoneal lymphocytes (PCL) of 45 healthy individuals, four uremic patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and 25 long-term continuous ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (CAPD) patients were characterized by flow cytometry to investigate whether CAPD alters the phenotype of PCL. B lineage cells constitute a minority of PCL (2.5% of cells). Although the majority of peritoneal T cells expressed alpha beta T cell receptor (TcR), 7% expressed gamma delta TcR, a proportion which was significantly higher than that in peripheral blood (PBMC) (approximately 4%). The majority of PCL T cells exhibited markers of the thymus-dependent lineage (CD2, CD3, TcR alpha beta, CD8 alpha beta or CD4) and surface antigens associated with memory and activation (CD45RO, CD11a, CD18, CD49d, HLA-DR). An average of 75% of both CD4+ and CD8+ PCL T cells of healthy subjects and CAPD patients were CDw60+, thus characterizing the T cell subset containing the helper activity for the mitogen-driven B cell differentiation. CD44s was abundantly expressed on PCL T cells. In contrast to PCL T cells of healthy subjects peritoneal T lymphocytes of CAPD patients exhibited CD44 splice variants containing products of exon-v9 and the proportion of CD44v9+ cells correlated with the frequency of peritonitis episodes the patients had gone through. The majority of PCL T cells of both healthy subjects and CAPD patients were CD8+. A large proportion of CD8+ PCL T cells from healthy subjects expressed the homodimeric CD8 alpha alpha isoform; however, such cells were not found in CAPD patients. In healthy subjects mRNA for the recombination activating gene 1 (RAG-1) was detectable in a PCL population containing CD7-CD34+ and CD7+CD34+ cells. In contrast, neither mRNA transcripts of the RAG-1 gene nor CD34+ cells were detectable in PCL of CAPD patients.