The interleukin-2 receptor (IL-2R) is mainly expressed on activated T cells. Depending on its rate of synthesis, a portion is released from the cell surface as soluble IL-2R (sIL-2R). Since the role of mononuclear cells in the pathology of bullous pemphigoid (BP) is not well understood, we determined the sIL-2R in both blister fluid and serum of 15 BP patients with generalized disease before initiating systemic treatment. In addition, we obtained both lesional and perilesional skin biopsies and examined the mononuclear infiltrate with a panel of monoclonal antibodies. In BP blisters, sIL-2R levels were significantly increased (2070±350 U/ml), (±SEM) compared with serum samples taken at the time of blister puncture (1340±290 U/ml). In six patients with blisters due to second-degree burns or friction and in five suction blister volunteers, sIL-2R levels were normal in both blisters and serum. In BP, elevated serum levels decreased to normal during therapy, correlating with disease activity. The immunohistology showed that 30% of mononuclear cells in the dermal infiltrate of lesional skin expressed the IL-2R, whereas only 15% were positive in perilesional skin. IL-2R-positive cells are the most likely source of the shed receptor in BP blisters. Our results indicate the presence of activated T cells in lesions and peripheral blood of BP and thus underline the importance of cell-mediated immune mechanisms in the pathology of this disease.