This report examines the effect of recombinant murine (rm) IL-10 on antigen-induced cellular recruitment into the airways of sensitized Balb/c mice. The intranasal instillation of 10 micrograms ovalbumin induced an early (6-24 h) increase in the number of neutrophils, and a late rise (24-96 h) in that of eosinophils in the bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid and bronchial tissue. A single intranasal instillation of 0.01-0.1 microgram of rmIL-10, administered concurrently with ovalbumin, but not 1 or 3 h thereafter, dose-dependently inhibited both airway neutrophilia and eosinophilia. This phenomenon was suppressed by treating the sensitized mice with 1 mg/mouse of a neutralizing anti-IL-10 mAb, which increased significantly ovalbumin-induced neutrophil and eosinophil accumulation in the BAL fluid. These results suggest that antigen stimulation may trigger the in vivo generation of IL-10, which, in turn, participates in the leukocyte infiltration into the airways. rmIL-10 also reduced TNF-alpha release in the BAL fluid observed 1 and 3 h after antigen challenge. Furthermore, the intranasal instillation of an anti-TNF-alpha antiserum to sensitized mice markedly reduced ovalbumin-induced neutrophil and eosinophil accumulation in the BAL fluid. These findings indicate that leukocyte infiltration into the airways of antigen-challenged mice is regulated by IL-10. Furthermore, inhibition of TNF-alpha production by rmIL-10 suggests that allergic airway inflammation and TNF-alpha formation are parallel events in this model.