To identify disease-specific T cell changes that occur in Crohn's disease (CD), the T cell receptor BV repertoires of lamina propria lymphocytes (LPL) isolated from both the inflamed and "disease-inactive" colons of seven CD patients were compared by the quantitative PCR and DNA sequence analysis. It was observed that the BV repertoires of LPL isolated from the disease-active and disease-inactive parts of the colon from the same individual were very different. Furthermore, nearly all of the differences occurred in CD4+ LPL, with very few differences in the CD8+ population of LPL. Although the pattern of BV segments that was increased in disease-active tissue relative to disease-inactive tissue was different for all seven CD patients, there were several BV segments that increased uniformly in the disease-active tissue of all seven individuals. CDR3 length analysis and DNA sequencing of these BV segments revealed that in six of the seven CD patients there was a striking degree of oligoclonality that was absent from disease-inactive tissue of the same individual. These observations suggest that at least some of the inflammation in CD is the result of responses by CD4+ T cells to specific antigens. The isolation of such inflammation-specific CD4+ T cells may make it possible to identify the antigens that are responsible for the inflammatory process in CD and provide a better understanding of its pathogenesis.