In man, CD4+ T cells can be divided into phenotypically distinguishable subsets with different function whereas CD4+ T cells with the opposite pheno-CD45RO and low levels of CD45RA antigen provide help for mitogen-induced immunoglobulin production whereas CD4+ cells with the opposite phenotype suppress immunoglobulin production. However, studies examining cytokine production by phenotypically defined CD4+ T cell subsets have led to different conclusions. Further, very few studies have examined cytokine production by freshly isolated CD4+ T cell subsets during extended culture periods. Thus, we examined the production of several cytokines (at various time points) by CD4+ T cell subsets that were isolated in several ways, and stimulated with PWM, Con A, and PHA in a well-defined serum-free culture system. We found that CD4+, CD45RA- (or CD45RO+) T cells consistently produced the most IL-2, IFN-γ, and TNF-α after mitogen stimulation for 2 days. PWM induced the largest quantities of each cytokine, although a similar pattern of production was observed in response to Con A and PHA. We were unable to detect IL-4 production by mononuclear cells and CD4+ T cell subsets suggesting that, if it is produced at all, IL-4 is produced in extremely small quantities. When the culture period of initially CD45RO- T cells was extended beyond 2 days, the culture supernatant contained increased quantities of each cytokine and the cells in the culture had an increased number of cells expressing CD45RO antigen. Together, these data indicate that CD4, CD45RA- (or CD45RO+) T cells in peripheral blood are the major producers of IL-2, IFN-γ, and TNF-α following short-term mitogen stimulation, and that phenotypically defined peripheral blood T cell subsets do not maintain a distinct pattern of cytokines during extended culture periods. © 1991.