In the last few years evidence has been accumulated to suggest that allergen-reactive type 2 T helper (Th2) cells play a triggering role in the activation and/or recruitment of IgE antibody-producing B cells, mast cells and eosinophils, the cellular triad involved in the allergic inflammation. Interleukin (IL)-4 production by a still unknown cell type (T-cell subset, mast cell/basophil?) at the time of antigen presentation to the Th cell is critical for the development of Th2 cells. Other cytokines, such as IL-1 and IL-10, and hormones, such as calcitriol and progesterone, also play a favoring role. In contrast, cytokines such as interferon-alpha, interferon-gamma, IL-12 and transforming growth factor-beta, and hormones, such as dehydroepiandrostenone, play a negative regulatory role in the development of Th2 cells. However, the mechanisms underlying the preferential activation by environmental allergens of Th2 cells in atopic subjects still remain obscure. Among the possibilities are alterations to molecular mechanisms directly involved in the regulation of IL-4 gene expression or deficient regulatory activity of cytokines that antagonize Th2 cells.