The role of cytokines in leukemic arthritis is unknown. The presentation of a patient with B cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia and destructive arthritis of the wrist joints prompted us to study the synovial cytokine pattern by immunohistologic analysis. In addition, rearranged V(H) and V(L) immunoglobulin genes were sequenced to assess B cell clonality. Heavy infiltrations of CD20+ cells with lambda light chain restriction were found in the synovial tissue. Sequencing demonstrated overexpansion of a single B cell clone (DP58/D/J(H)4b and IGLV3S2/Jlambda2-Jlambda3 for V(H) and V(L), respectively) in the peripheral blood. Identical V(H) and V(L) rearrangements were found in the synovial infiltrates. Somatic mutations were found in both the peripheral blood and the synovial clone. Immunohistologic study revealed the presence of abundant interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta) and, to a lesser degree, tumor necrosis factor beta (TNFbeta) (lymphotoxin). In contrast, TNFalpha, interferon-gamma, IL-4, IL-6, and IL-10 were rarely found in the synovial infiltrates. Therefore, IL-1beta secreted in great amounts by leukemic B cells appears to be the major cytokine that mediates joint destruction in leukemic arthritis.