T cells are most likely to play an important role in the pathogenesis of WG, and recently a predominant Th1 pattern of immune response has been demonstrated in granulomatous inflammation. Since the expression of costimulatory molecules has a significant impact on the cytokine profile and proliferation response of T cells, the goal of this study was to characterize the expression of costimulatory molecules (CD28, CTLA-4 (CD152), B7-1 (CD80), B7-2 (CD86)) on T cells, monocytes and B cells in WG, and to correlate the findings with clinical parameters such as disease activity, extent and therapy. WG patients (n = 24) and healthy controls (HC; n = 17) were examined for the expression of costimulatory molecules by fluorescence-activated cell sorter analysis, both in whole peripheral blood and after in vitro activation of T cells and antigen-presenting cells. Results were correlated with clinical data. The expression of CD28 on CD4+ and CD8+ cells was significantly lower in WG than in HC (CD28+ 81.4% in WG versus 97.9% of CD4+ cells (P < 0.0001); CD28+ 44.6% in WG versus 68.5% of CD8+ cells (P < 0.00001)), both in peripheral blood and after in vitro activation. A lower percentage of monocytes was B7-2+ in WG than in HC in peripheral blood, whereas no significant differences in the expression of B7-1 and B7-2 were observed after in vitro stimulation of monocytes and B cells. After in vitro activation a significantly higher percentage of B7-1+ and B7-2+ T cells was seen in WG. There was no significant difference in the CTLA-4 expression pattern between WG and HC. The percentage of CD28+ lymphocytes correlated negatively with the Disease Extent Index cumulated over the course of disease (r = -0.46, P = 0.03), indicating a more severe manifestation in patients with lower CD28 expression. Correlations with other clinical parameters such as activity or therapy were not seen. WG patients show a lack of CD28 expression on T cells and an unusual up-regulation of its ligands B7-1 and B7-2 on T cells after in vitro activation as well as a lower expression of B7-2 on freshly isolated monocytes compared with HC. These features might promote the Th1 cytokine pattern and thereby contribute to persistently high levels of immune activation in WG.