Background: Adenosine deaminase (AD) and xanthine oxidase (XO) are enzymes of purine catabolism that catalyze the conversion of adenosine to inosine, deoxyadenosine to deoxyinosine, hypoxanthine to xanthine and xanthine to Uric acid, respectively. AD is known to be an important enzyme in the maturation and function of T lymphocytes. The aim of this prospective study was to evaluate whether there are changes in serum AD activity as an index of T lymphocyte function in Behcet's disease (BD) which is known as having T cell-mediated immune response. Methods: A total of 32 patients and 26 sex- and age-matched healthy control subjects were analysed for AD and XO activities. The patients with BD were divided into two subgroups: BD with and without eye lesions. Twelve patients with complete BD and four patients with incomplete BD had eye complications. AD and XO activities in serum were measured with spectrophotometric methods. Re vults: There was a remarkable increase in AD activity and moderate increase in XO in patients with BD compared to controls indicating T cell activation and increased maturation. Serum AD activity of complete BD was higher than that of incomplete BD. There was no difference it) XO activity between the subgroups of BD. Significant positive correlation was found between AD and XO in BD, although there was no correlation in control group. Conclusions: The results indicate that increased AD and XO activities may provide an additional benefit for the diagnosis of BD and subtyping of the disease as having eye complication or not and complete and incomplete BD. Further studies are needed to bring to light the exact mechanism of AD and XO activity elevation. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.