Multiparameter flow cytometry was used to examine the cytokine responses of antigen-specific T lymphocytes isolated from the lungs of antigen-sensitized mice which developed pulmonary inflammation after aerosol challenge with ovalbumin (OA) (OA/OA). Lung T cells were stimulated in vitro with OA and anti-CD28 monoclonal antibody (mAb) in the presence of the secretion inhibitor, brefeldin A. T cell subsets were examined for intracellular cytokine expression using fluorochrome-labeled cell-surface specific and anti-cytokine antibodies. Antigen-specific responses resulted in significant numbers of CD4+ lung cells expressing cytoplasmic interleukin (IL)-2 (6%), IL-4 (1.5%), IL-5 (4%), and tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha (11%), but not interferon (IFN)-gamma. Dual cytokine analyses demonstrated antigen-specific responses resulted in CD4+ T cells being positive for IL-2 and IL-4 or IL-2 and IL-5. TNF-alpha was the only antigen-specific cytokine response detected in CD8+ lung T cells after in vitro activation with OA. Cytokines in the supernatants of cultures activated with OA and anti-CD28 were measured by ELISA and the results confirmed the antigen-specific responses measured by flow cytometry. Polyclonal activation of lung T cells from OA/OA mice with 12-myristate 13-acetate (PMA), ionomycin, anti-CD3 mAb, and anti-CD28 mAb resulted in higher percentages of IL-2+ (43%) and IL-5+ (7%) CD4 cells when compared to CD4+ T cells from non-OA sensitized, challenged mice. CD8+ cells from OA/OA mice demonstrated intracellular staining for IL-2 (26%), TNF-alpha (55%), and IFN-gamma (37%), but not IL-4 or IL-5, after polyclonal activation. There is less agreement between intracellular cytokine staining of CD4+ T cells and cytokines released into the culture medium after polyclonal activation. Dual cytokine analyses of polyclonal-activated CD4+ cells demonstrated co-expression of IFN-gamma with IL-2, IL-4, or IL-5. T cells co-expressing IL-2 with IL-4 or IL-5 were also detected. These results demonstrate the utility of multiparameter flow cytometry to directly measure antigen-specific cytokine responses in subsets of T lymphocytes isolated from inflammatory sites.