Objective The role of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) in systemic sclerosis (SSc) remains controversial. The present study was undertaken to investigate the influence of TNF receptor (TNFR)-costimulated lymphocytes on collagen expression in fibroblasts. Methods TNFR expression on mononuclear cells from the dermis and blood of SSc patients was assessed by flow cytometry. Peripheral blood CD3+ lymphocytes were activated with CD3/CD28 beads and costimulated with TNFR-selective variants. Expression of interleukin-6 (IL-6), soluble IL-6 receptor (sIL-6R), IL-10, and IL-13 was detected by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay or quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. Healthy fibroblasts were incubated with conditioned media from TNFR-costimulated T lymphocytes, and type I collagen expression was quantified. Results TNFRI and TNFRII were up-regulated on dermal T lymphocytes from patients with diffuse cutaneous SSc. TNFRII expression correlated with skin thickening. After CD3/CD28 activation, peripheral blood lymphocytes from SSc patients produced more IL-6, sIL-6R, and IL-13 compared to healthy lymphocytes. Costimulation with TNFRI-selective ligands and soluble TNF further increased IL-6 expression, whereas costimulation with TNFRII led to greater release of sIL-6R. IL-10 expression, which normally occurs after TNFRII costimulation, was impaired in SSc T cells. Supernatants of TNF-costimulated SSc lymphocytes induced higher type I collagen expression in fibroblasts, which was partially reversible by dual inhibition of IL-6 and IL-13. Expression of TNFR and IL-6 in the dermis was reversible in a patient who received lymphoablative therapy prior to autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Conclusion TNF-costimulated T lymphocytes from SSc patients have a propensity to secrete profibrotic cytokines, while the ability to produce IL-10 is weakened. These results suggest that T lymphocytes in SSc support fibrosis, but might lack the capacity to resolve inflammation.