We have assessed the biologic role of IL-4 by fusing its gene to an immunoglobulin promoter/enhancer and introducing it into transgenic mice. By attenuating the transgene promoter through the insertion of E. coli lac operator sequences, we have created a series of animals that constitutively express varying amounts of IL-4. Overexpression of IL-4 results in a marked increase in serum IgE levels and the appearance of an inflammatory ocular lesion (blepharitis) with characteristic histopathologic features seen in allergic reactions. In addition, expression of the IL-4 transgene in the thymus perturbs T cell maturation, reducing the population of immature CD4+CD8+ thymocytes and peripheral T cells while increasing the population of mature CD8+ thymocytes. These results demonstrate that deregulation of a single cytokine gene in vivo can induce a complex inflammatory reaction resembling that observed in human allergic disease.