Both the pattern of mediator release during the late-phase response (LPR) and the reduction of the LPR with corticosteroid pretreatment have suggested that basophils, not mast cells, represent the main source of histamine in the late response to nasal antigen challenge. We tested this hypothesis by examining alcian blue-stained cytospin slides of nasal washings obtained before and for 11 hours after nasal antigen challenge in 11 asymptomatic subjects with seasonal allergic rhinitis. In a double-blind manner, subjects received placebo or topical flunisolide (50 micrograms, each nostril, twice daily) for 1 week before antigen challenge. One month later, the challenge was repeated with the alternate pretreatment. On placebo-treatment days, a twelve-fold increase occurred in the number and a threefold increase in the percentage of alcian blue-stained positive cells in nasal washings in the LPR compared to baseline. At least 68% of these alcian blue-stained positive cells were basophils, as determined by light microscopic criteria. Alcian blue-stained cell influx correlated with increases in histamine levels in nasal washes (p less than 0.001). Topical steroid pretreatment blocked the influx of alcian blue-stained positive cells, as well as other inflammatory cells, including eosinophils, neutrophils, and mononuclear cells. Symptoms and mediator release were also blocked. These data demonstrate an influx of basophils and suggest that these cells are responsible for the histamine release observed in the LPR. Our findings indicate that pharmacologic control of basophil histamine release may represent a strategy for the treatment of a variety of chronic allergic diseases that are believed to resemble the LPR.