Anti-CD2 MoAbs have previously been shown to induce tolerance and to block B cell differentiation, T cell and monocyte activation. Since these immune functions are important in joint inflammation, we asked whether administration of the anti-CD2 MoAb OX34 has a beneficial effect on established rat adjuvant arthritis, a model of human rheumatoid arthritis, and how it affects CD2-bearing leucocyte subsets. Female Lewis rats with established adjuvant arthritis received a total of 5 mg OX34 or isotype-matched control MoAb starting on day 15 after adjuvant injection. Weight and arthritis score (AS) were measured in a blinded fashion. Peripheral blood cells were analysed for numbers of leucocyte subsets at various time points. Animals were killed on day 30 and lymphatic organs were processed for immunohistology. Clinically, OX34 treatment led to increased body weight and reduced AS. Although OX34 binds to CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in a comparable fashion, OX34 treatment reduced CD4+ T cells, but not CD8+ T cells. Among CD4+ T cells CD45RC+ ('naive') T cells virtually disappeared; CD45RC- ('recently activated') T cells were slightly reduced. A reduction of CD4+ T cells was also found in the lung, liver, bone marrow, spleen and lymph nodes. Down-modulation of the CD2 molecule by OX34, again, affected CD4+ T cells, suggesting a specific signal for CD4+ but not CD8+ T cells. In conclusion, the anti-CD2 MoAb OX34 attenuates established rat adjuvant arthritis. In spite of similar binding to CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, OX34 depletes only CD4+ T cells and down-modulates the CD2 molecule on these cells. These results suggest a therapeutic benefit from CD2-directed therapy for chronic types of arthritis.