Intestinal lymphangiectasia (InL) is a disease characterized by hypoproteinemia and lymphocytopenia resulting from blocked intestinal lymphatics and loss of lymph fluid into the gastrointestinal tract. This leads to immunologic abnormalities including hypogammaglobulinemia, skin anergy and impaired allograft rejection. In the present study, we evaluated whether the above immunologic abnormalities are secondary to a quantitative or qualitative disorder of T cells. In initial studies we demonstrated that adult InL patients' peripheral blood contain strikingly (and significantly) reduced numbers of CD4+/CD45RA+ T cells, whereas the numbers of CD4+/CD45RO+ T cells were only moderately (and not significantly) reduced. In addition, the CD4+/CD45RO+ T cell population contained an increased percentage of highly differentiated and previously sensitized cells, as demonstrated by decreased CD27 and CD31 expression and increased HLA-DR and CD69 expression. In subsequent functional studies, we showed that the InL CD4+/CD45RO+ T cells, when stimulated in vitro, proliferate fivefold less than control CD4+/CD45RO+ T cells and produce fourfold more IL-4 and threefold less IFN-gamma and IL-2. Thus, this cytokine production profile also reflects the highly differentiated nature of the residual cell population. Overall, these studies provide new information on the trafficking of naive/mature and Th1/Th2 T cell populations in this disease model.