The pattern of cytokine production of skin-infiltrating T cells from patients with progressive systemic sclerosis was investigated. Most CD4+ T-cell clones generated from skin biopsy specimens showed a type 2 helper (Th2) cytokine profile (production of interleukin-4, but no interferon (IFN)-gamma). High interleukin-4 but little or no IFN-gamma mRNA expression was found by in situ hybridization in skin perivascular mononuclear cell infiltrates. The immunohistochemical analysis revealed CD30 expression by high numbers of CD4+ T cells in the same specimens. Finally, the great majority of patients with diffuse disease had elevated levels of soluble CD30 in their sera. These data suggest the existence in patients with progressive systemic sclerosis of a predominant activation of Th2-like T cells, which may account for the major alterations (endothelial cell injury, fibrosis, and autoantibody production) occurring in this disease.