Eotaxin is a newly discovered C-C chemokine which preferentially attracts and activates eosinophil leukocytes by acting specifically on its receptor CCR3. The airway inflammation characteristic of asthma is believed to be, at least in part, the result of eosinophil-dependent tissue injury. This study was designed to determine whether there is increased expression of eotaxin and CCR3 in the bronchial mucosa of asthmatics and whether this is associated with disease severity. The major sources of eotaxin and CCR3 mRNA were determined by co-localization experiments. Bronchial mucosal biopsy samples were obtained from atopic asthmatics and normal non-atopic controls. Eotaxin and CCR3 mRNA were identified in tissue sections by in situ hybridization (ISH) using radiolabeled riboprobes and their protein product visualized by immunohistochemistry (IHC). Co-localization experiments were performed by double ISH/IHC. Eotaxin and CCR3 (mRNA and protein) were significantly elevated in atopic asthmatics compared with normal controls. In the asthmatics there was a highly significant inverse correlation between eotaxin mRNA+ cells and the histamine provocative concentration causing a 20% fall in FEV1 (PC20). Cytokeratin-positive epithelial cells and CD31+ endothelial cells were the major source of eotaxin mRNA whereas CCR3 co-localized predominantly to eosinophils. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that damage to the bronchial mucosa in asthma involves secretion of eotaxin by epithelial and endothelial cells resulting in eosinophil infiltration mediated via CCR3. Since selective (eotaxin) and non-selective C-C chemokines such as RANTES, MCP-3 and MCP-4 all stimulate eosinophils via CCR3, this receptor is potentially a prime therapeutic target in the spectrum of diseases involving eosinophil-mediated tissue damage.