Local immune function is most likely a key influence in the establishment of human papillomavirus infections and its subsequent disease. Unfortunately, little information is known about local cervical immunity, and even less is known about human papillomavirus immunoreactivity. In addition, studies of local immunoreactivity have been hampered by the technical difficulty in obtaining cervical lymphocytes. The objective of the present study was to develop a simple method for the propagation of cervical lymphocytes from biopsy-size specimens. Cervical tissue was obtained from women undergoing a hysterectomy. Cervical samples measuring approximately 3 by 5 by 2 mm were minced and divided into two portions. One portion was digested by standard digestion methods and density gradient lymphocyte separation. The sample was then immunocharacterized for CD4 and CD8 cells by flow cytometry. The other portion was minced into 1-mm3 sections, and each section was placed into a separate well with tissue culture medium and interleukin-2. Lymphocyte counts and immunophenotypic analysis were performed after 18 to 20 days in culture. After 18 to 20 days in culture, the analysis demonstrated that this method of direct lymphocyte culture from a biopsy specimen yielded approximately 1 x 10(6) to 5 x 10(6) lymphocytes. Immunophenotypic studies of the digested sample at day 0 revealed CD4-to-CD8 ratios of between 0.7:1 and 3.5:1, and at days 18 to 20 they revealed ratios of between 2.3:1 and 98:1. In summary, we developed a simple technique for propagating cervical lymphocytes from small tissue samples for the study of the local immune response. Studies are under way to optimize lymphocyte growth and to preserve CD8 populations.