We have used in situ hybridization (ISH) and immunohistochemistry (IHC) to investigate the kinetics of the expression for Fc epsilon RI mRNA (alpha-, beta- and gamma-chains), the alpha-chain protein product, as well as the phenotype of the mRNA- or protein-positive cells in allergen-induced late-phase skin reactions in atopic subjects. Compared with diluent controls, there were significant increases in the total number of mRNA+ cells for the alpha-, beta- and gamma-chains for Fc epsilon RI at all time-points (6, 24 and 48 hr) after allergen challenge (P < 0.01). By double IHC/ISH significant increases in alpha-, beta- and gamma-chain mRNA+ macrophages, eosinophils, mast cells and CD1a+ cells were also observed after allergen challenge (P < 0.05). The distribution of Fc epsilon RI subunit (alpha-, beta-, or gamma-chain) mRNA+ co-localization was CD68+ macrophages (42-47%), EG2+ eosinophils (33-39%), tryptase+ mast cells (5-11%) and CD1a+ Langerhans' cells (2-4%). Using single IHC, significant increases in the total number of Fc epsilon RI protein+ cells (P < 0.01) were observed 24 and 48 hr after allergen challenge. Double IHC showed that the distribution of Fc epsilon RI+ cells was tryptase+ mast cells (33%), CD68+ macrophages (36%), EG2+ eosinophils (20%), CD1a+ Langerhans' cells (4%) and unidentified cells (7%), at the 24-hr allergen-challenged sites. These observations suggest that the cutaneous late-phase reaction in man is associated with up-regulation of Fc epsilon RI on eosinophils, macrophages, mast cells and Langerhans' cells.