Subepithelial fibrosis in the bronchi of asthmatics is the result of an irreversible lung fibroblast activation, triggered by cytokines secreted by IL-4- and IL-5-activated inflammatory cells. Here, we provide evidence that human lung fibroblasts (ICIG7 cells) express a single class of high-affinity IL-4 receptor (IL-4R). This receptor is functional and composed of at least the IL-4Ralpha and IL-13Ralpha1 chains in the absence of the IL-2Rgamma chain. The IL-4Ralpha is efficiently internalized at 37 degrees C within 15 min in the presence of IL-4, whereas this process is slower with IL-13. In ICIG7 cells, IL-4 triggers the tyrosine phosphorylation of at least two proteins (110 and 180 kDa), and up-regulates the transcription of c-fos, c-jun and c-myc proto-oncogenes. In addition, the secretion of several cytokines [IL-6, granulocyte colony stimulating factor and granulocyte macrophage colony stimulating factor (GM-CSF)] as well as the expression of beta1 integrin and VCAM-1 adhesion molecules are augmented by IL-4. IL-13 displays similar biological activities, but less effectively than IL-4. On the other hand, ICIG7 cells could constitute a lung fibroblast population defined by the spontaneous release of several pro-inflammatory cytokines (IL-6, IL-11 and GM-CSF) and cell surface phenotype (CD4 and Thy-1). Through this peculiar cytokine pattern and the IL-4/IL-13-dependent activities, these cells could act as effector cells in the pathogenesis of asthma, triggering and maintaining the recruitment, homing and activation of bone marrow-derived inflammatory cells, and playing a role in the remodeling process of the airways.