Mucus hypersecretion is a common characteristic of asthma. Acute severe asthma is often associated with neutrophilic infiltration into airways. Neutrophils contain elastase, a potent secretagogue in airways. Therefore, we hypothesized that instillation of ovalbumin in sensitized guinea pigs causes goblet cell secretion by releasing elastase from recruited neutrophils. When we instilled ovalbumin into the trachea of ovalbumin-sensitized guinea pigs, early recruitment of neutrophils identified by 3,3'- diaminobenzidine staining, and goblet cell degranulation measured with a semiautomatic computer-based imaging system occurred. The Leumedin NPC 15669 (a drug that inhibits leukocyte recruitment) and an antibody to intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) both prevented neutrophil recruitment and goblet cell degranulation, implicating leukocytes in the response. Using immunofluorescence we showed that the leukocytes recruited early after antigen challenge were CD-16-positive, implicating neutrophils. Pretreatment with the selective neutrophil elastase inhibitor ICI 200,355 also prevented ovalbumin-induced goblet cell degranulation, implicating elastase. We conclude that ovalbumin-induced goblet cell degranulation is due to neutrophil recruitment and elastase release.