Effective treatment is lacking for malignant glioblastoma/astrocytoma. We have identified interleukin-4 receptors (IL-4R) on human malignant astrocytoma. We demonstrate that 16 of 21 surgical samples of high-grade astrocytoma and glioblastoma but not normal brain tissues expressed IL-4R as assessed by reverse transcriptase PCR. We further demonstrate that human malignant astrocytoma cell lines express high-affinity IL-4R. Using a chimeric protein composed of circularly permuted IL-4 and a truncated form of Pseudomonas exotoxin A, we observed that this toxin IL4(38-37)-PE38KDEL) is highly cytotoxic to IL-4R-bearing glioblastoma cells. Compared with a previously reported IL4-PE chimeric protein (IL-PE4E), IL4(38-37)-PE38KDEL bound with higher affinity and was 3-30-fold more cytotoxic to glioblastoma cell lines. Upon intrathecal administration in monkeys, high cerebrospinal fluid IL4(38-37)-PE38KDEL levels were achieved using 2- and 6-microg/kg doses without any central nervous system or other abnormalities. IL4(38-37)-PE38KDEL levels were not detectable in the serum of any monkey studied. When IL4(38-37)-PE38KDEL was injected into the right frontal cortex of rats, localized necrosis was observed at 1000-ng/ml doses but not at < or = 100-ng/ml doses. We conclude that by localized administration, nontoxic levels of IL4(38-37)-PE38KDEL can be achieved, which may have significant cytotoxic activity against malignant astrocytoma.