Atopic individuals are predisposed to mounting vigorous Th2-type immune responses to environmental allergens. To determine the factors responsible, animal models that closely mimic natural modes of allergen exposure should prove most informative. Therefore, we investigated the role of IL-4, a known Th2-promoting cytokine, in generation of Th2 responses after exposure of either the skin or airway to soluble protein. Compared with wild-type (WT) mice, IL-4-deficient (IL-4(-/-)) mice showed markedly impaired Th2 activation after primary exposure to inhaled ovalbumin (OVA), with decreased OVA-specific IgG1 and IgE, and significantly fewer eosinophils in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid after airway challenge. In contrast, IL-4(-/-) mice initially exposed to epicutaneous (e.c.) OVA mounted Th2 responses equivalent to responses in WT mice, with high numbers of eosinophils in BAL fluid. Because Th2 responses were not induced by e.c. OVA exposure in Stat6(-/-) mice (mice lacking signal transducer and activator of transcription 6), the role of IL-13 was tested. In vivo depletion of IL-13 prevented Th2 responses induced by e.c. OVA exposure in IL-4(-/-) mice. These data demonstrate a marked difference in the IL-4 dependence of Th2 responses generated at two anatomic sites of natural allergen encounter and identify the skin as a particularly potent site for Th2 sensitization.