Asthma is characterized by an eosinophilic inflammation and a subepithelial fibrosis in the airways. Eosinophils contain several cytotoxic substances, such as eosinophil cationic protein (ECP), which can promote inflammation and cause tissue damage. This has generated the hypothesis that eosinophils may drive remodelling of extracellular matrix (ECM). To investigate the role of eosinophils we used an in vitro model for remodelling, the three-dimensional collagen gel contraction assay. Two sources of eosinophils were used in this study, isolated human peripheral eosinophils (purity > 95%) and stimulated [interleukin (IL)-5, IL-3 and granulocyte macrophage-colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF)] HL-60 clone 15 cells. Human eosinophils or HL-60 cells were cast together with human lung fibroblasts (HFL1) in type I collagen gels. Both types of eosinophils augmented fibroblast-mediated collagen gel contraction in a time and concentration-dependent manner. At 48 h, the gel area in HFL1/eosinophil co-culture was 46.5% +/- 0.5 (mean +/- s.e.m.) of initial area and in HFL1 culture 52.3% +/- 0.1 (P < 0.001). Respective figures for HFL1/stimulated HL-60 co-culture and HFL1 culture only were 44.1% +/- 0.5 and 52.4% +/- 0.4 (P < 0.001). The release of ECP was increased when fibroblasts were cultured with eosinophils compared to eosinophils cultured alone. In addition, native ECP added to fibroblast gel cultures also augmented contraction. Our results suggest that eosinophils may interact with mesenchymal cells, promoting remodelling of ECM and that ECP constitutes one potential eosinophil-derived mediator driving this process. We conclude that this may be one important mechanism by which eosinophil-ECM interactions will lead to airway tissue remodelling in asthma.