We studied CD4 and CD8 T cell subsets, suppressor cell function, production of IL-2, and immune contrasuppressor cell activity in 21 patients with rheumatic fever (RF), both at the time of their first acute episode and 3 months later (recovery phase). As controls we studied their healthy sibling nearest in age, as well as age- and sex-matched unrelated normal subjects. In the acute phase we found CD4+ T cells to be high, concanavalin A-induced suppression to be low, and production of IL-2 to be significantly decreased, as compared to the normal unrelated controls. The addition of contrasuppressor cells (VV+) to cell cocultures resulted in an increase in proliferation by mononuclear cells (MNC) in response to streptococcal M antigen but not to C carbohydrate antigen. In the recovery phase, CD4+ T cells became normal, CD8+ T cells rose above normal, and the suppressor cell functions (concanavalin-A-induced and spontaneously expanded), as well as the production of IL-2, fell further. Siblings were found to have increased CD8+ T cells and decreased production of IL-2, as compared to the unrelated controls. These findings indicate that important immunoregulatory disturbances occur during the acute phase of rheumatic fever, some of which persist, accentuate, or change during the recovery phase. The findings in siblings could be related either to streptococcal infection or to a familial immunoregulatory aberration.