Glioblastoma, glioma or neuroblastoma cells were examined for the expression of IL-4 receptors (IL-4R) by flow cytometric analysis and 125I-IL-4 binding. These cancer cell lines expressed IL-4R which were of high affinity (KD = 700 x 10(-12) M) on glioblastoma cells. To investigate the function of these receptors and to target potent cytotoxic antitumor agents to human neurological cancers, we utilized IL4-PE4E, which is composed of IL-4 and mutant Pseudomonas exotoxin (IL4-PE4E). This chimeric molecule was cytotoxic toward human glioblastoma, neuroblastoma and glioma tumor cells in a dose-dependent manner. The cytotoxicity of IL4-PE4E was specific, since it was neutralized by excess IL-4, and by an anti-IL-4 monoclonal antibody in all types of brain tumor tested. IL2-PE4E and IL6-PE4E were not cytotoxic, nor was an IL4-PE4E mutant lacking ADP-ribosylating activity, indicating the IL4-PE4E-mediated cytotoxicity of the brain tumor cells required both IL-4R binding and enzymatic toxin activity. These data indicate that human neurological cancer cells express IL-4R which are targets for the cytotoxic effects of IL4-toxin. In addition, our data also suggest that IL4-PE4E should be studied further as a potential treatment for human neurological cancers.