Patients with Wegener's granulomatosis have a high prevalence of expanded populations of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells bearing different α/β T cell receptors. To elucidate the role of these populations, we studied the phenotypic and functional characteristics of 13 expanded T cell populations in four patients for a period of 35-51 months. The expanded populations generally showed a persistently high expression of the activation markers HLA-DR and CD25. This expression was independent of the activity of the disease. The expanded populations also expressed CD45RO and/or CD45RA and most of them expressed CD57 but not CD28. Analysis of intracellular presence and secretion of IFN-γ, IL-2, and IL-4 showed that most of the expanded cell populations contained and/or secreted more of these cytokines than the nonexpanded populations, with an especially high expression/secretion of IFN-γ and IL-2. The expanded populations showed little proliferative response to Con A and OKT3. The proliferative response of the cells was partly restored after preincubation in medium alone. Some of the expanded populations were associated with disease activity, thus suggesting a link between expanded T cells and the disease. The activated status of the expanded populations and the tendency for certain populations to correlate in magnitude with disease activity suggest their involvement in the disease process. The relative stability of these cell populations indicates that the stimulus driving them is persistent, in agreement with the chronicity of the disease.