As previous studies have indicated that genital tract mucosal T cell function may be impaired in HIV infection, we investigated the T cell cytokine mRNA in the genital tract mucosa of HIV-infected women to determine if there are alterations in the cytokine profile which may explain the T cell impairment. The in situ hybridization technique was used to investigate the T helper-1 (Th1: IL-2, interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma)) and Th2 cytokine (IL-4, IL-5, IL-10) mRNA profile in cervical biopsies from 10 HIV+ and 10 HIV- subjects. Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) and genital infection had previously been excluded and the distribution of immunocompetent cells within the cervical mucosa was known for each subject. Non-parametric tests were used to compare the optical density (OD) of cytokine mRNA in the HIV+ and HIV- groups. Comparisons were also made between peripheral CD4 lymphocyte counts, cervical CD4/CD8 T lymphocyte ratios and cytokine mRNA OD in HIV+ subjects. The HIV+ women had significantly higher mRNA OD for the Th2 cytokines IL-4, IL-5 and IL-10 than HIV women. There was also significantly lower IL-2 mRNA OD in the former group. HIV+ women had lower IFN-gamma mRNA than HIV- women, but the difference was not statistically significant. There was no correlation between cytokine mRNA OD and peripheral CD4 count or cervical CD4/CD8 ratio. The predominance of Th2 cytokines, which are immuno-inhibitory, in the cervical mucosa of HIV+ women may underlie the impaired cytotoxic potential observed in the CD8+ T lymphocytes and may contribute to the susceptibility of HIV-infected women to recurrent genital tract infections and cervical neoplasia.