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Asthma is a complex disorder characterized by airway hyperreactivity and inflammation. To analyze cellular interactions required for the secretion of cytokines by the bronchial mucosa, we have evaluated the ex vivo response of tissue explants to allergen. Endobronchial mucosal biopsy tissue from mild atopic asthmatic subjects and normal control subjects were maintained in culture for 24 h. To detect reactivity to allergen, the explants were stimulated with dust mite extract Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus (Der p). Our analysis revealed that without any overt stimulation, mRNA transcripts for interleukin (IL)-5 and IL-13 were expressed by asthmatic but not normal bronchial tissue. In contrast, the expression of interferon-γ was observed in a higher proportion of cultured bronchial biopsies from the normal control subjects than in those from asthmatic subjects. Addition of Der p allergen did not change the cytokine profile of the explants from control volunteers but augmented the expression of IL-5 mRNA and induced secretion of the protein by the asthmatic bronchial tissue. In most cases, allergen also increased the production of IL-13 by bronchial tissue from asthmatic subjects. The allergen-induced secretion of IL-5 and IL-13 was inhibited by the fusion protein CTLA-4Ig, reflecting a requirement for CD80 (B7-1) and/or CD86 (B7-2) costimulation for the expression of the Th2 cytokines. This requirement for B7/CD28 costimulation is consistent with the hypothesis that IL-5 and IL-13 are produced by allergen-specific T cells resident in the asthmatic bronchial mucosa.