We have attempted to identify mRNA for IL-5 in endobronchial mucosal biopsies from asthmatics and controls, using the technique of in situ hybridization. Bronchial biopsies were obtained from 10 asthmatics and 9 nonatopic normal controls. A radio-labeled cRNA probe was prepared from an IL-5 cDNA and hybridized to permeabilized sections. These were washed extensively before processing for autoradiography. An IL-5-producing T cell clone derived from a patient with the hyper-IgE syndrome was used as a positive control. As a negative control, sections were also treated with a "sense" IL-5 probe. Specific hybridization signals for IL-5 mRNA were demonstrated within the bronchial mucosa in 6 out of the 10 asthmatic subjects. Cells exhibiting hybridization signals were located beneath the epithelial basement membrane. In contrast, there was no hybridization in the control group. No hybridization was observed with the sense probe. The six IL-5 mRNA-positive asthmatics tended to have more severe disease than the negative asthmatics, as assessed by symptoms and lung function, and showed a significant increase in the degree of infiltration of the bronchial mucosa by secreting (EG2+) eosinophils and activated (CD25+) T lymphocytes. Within the subjects who showed positive IL-5 mRNA, there was a correlation between IL-5 mRNA expression and the number of CD25+ and EG2+ cells and total eosinophil count. This study provides evidence for the cellular localization of IL-5 mRNA in the bronchial mucosa of asthmatics and supports the concept that this cytokine regulates eosinophil function in bronchial asthma.