Asthma and atopy show epidemiological association and are biologically linked by T-helper type 2 (T(h)2) cytokine-driven inflammatory mechanisms. IL-4 operates through the IL-4 receptor (IL-4R, a heterodimer of IL-4Ralpha and either gammac or IL-13Ralpha1) and IL-13 operates through IL-13R (a heterodimer of IL-4Ralpha and IL-13Ralpha1) to promote IgE synthesis and IgE-based mucosal inflammation which typify atopy. Recent animal model data suggest that IL-13 is a central cytokine in promoting asthma, through the stimulation of bronchial epithelial mucus secretion and smooth muscle hyper-reactivity. We investigated the role of common genetic variants of IL-13 and IL-13Ralpha1 in human asthma, considering IgE levels. A novel variant of human IL-13, Gln110Arg, on chromosome 5q31, associated with asthma rather than IgE levels in case-control populations from Britain and Japan [peak odds ratio (OR) = 2.31, 95% CI 1.33-4.00]; the variant also predicted asthma and higher serum IL-13 levels in a general, Japanese paediatric population. Immunohistochemistry demonstrated that both subunits of IL-13R are prominently expressed in bronchial epithelium and smooth muscle from asthmatic subjects. Detailed molecular modelling analyses indicate that residue 110 of IL-13, the site of the charge-modifying variants Arg and Gln, is important in the internal constitution of the ligand and crucial in ligand-receptor interaction. A non-coding variant of IL-13Ralpha1, A1398G, on chromosome Xq13, associated primarily with high IgE levels (OR = 3. 38 in males, 1.10 in females) rather than asthma. Thus, certain variants of IL-13 signalling are likely to be important promoters of human asthma; detailed functional analysis of their actions is needed.