In an attempt to identify and characterize T-lymphocyte immunoregulatory abnormalities in immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), we have performed phenotypic and clonal analysis on peripheral T lymphocytes from 23 children with ITP. Quantitation of lymphocyte subpopulations showed that children with acute ITP had higher numbers of CD45RA+ and lower numbers of CD45RO+ T cells than children with chronic ITP or controls, but these differences may be age related. Analysis of T-cell receptor variable beta gene usage identified 2 boys with chronic ITP and elevated numbers of V beta 8+ T cells. Eight T- cell clones were established (6 CD4+, 4B4+ helper-inducer lines and 2 CD8+ lines) that showed in vitro proliferation against allogeneic platelets. The addition of autologous antigen-presenting cells enhanced the proliferation of six clones, but not for two clones that coexpressed natural killer (NK) markers. Four of seven positive clones also had measurable interleukin (IL)-2 secretion following platelet stimulation, providing further evidence for T-cell reactivity. Our results provide the first evidence that patients with ITP may have platelet-reactive T lymphocytes identifiable at the clonal level, supporting the hypothesis that autoreactive peripheral T lymphocytes may mediate or participate in the pathogenesis of this disorder.