Mast cells are known to accumulate in tissue during allergic inflammation. However, the chemotaxins responsible are undefined. Using a modified Boyden chamber and the human mast-cell line HMC-1, we first identified mast-cell chemotactic activity in nasal lavage fluid collected before the pollen season after allergen provocation of allergic patients (n=29) (mean migratory response compared to medium control was 121%, range 85-198%). Mast-cell chemotactic activity was also detected in lavage fluid collected after allergen provocation at the end of a Swedish birch-pollen season from three different treatment groups: topical steroid treatment with budesonide; the topical antihistamine, levocabastine; and placebo. There was no significant difference in mast-cell chemotactic activity between nasal lavage fluid collected from the placebo group (mean=102%), the budesonide-treated group (mean=114%), or the levocabastine group (mean=125%). Stem cell factor (SCF), a known mast-cell chemotaxin, was present in the nasal lavage fluids from all three groups, and correlated with the mast-cell chemotactic activity (r=0.67, P<0.01). The mast-cell chemotactic activity was inhibited (range 5-100%) in some, but not all, nasal lavage fluids by a polyclonal antibody directed against SCF. This report describes the presence of mast-cell chemotactic activity in nasal lavage fluid during an allergic reaction. These findings show that SCF may play a pivotal role in the recruitment of mast cells in allergic rhinitis.