The role of nerve growth factor (NGF), a potent mediator acting in the development and differentiation of both neuronal and immune cells, was examined in a mouse model of allergic asthma. NGF-positive cells were detected in the inflammatory infiltrate of the lung and enhanced levels of NGF were detected in serum and broncho-alveolar lavage fluids. Mononuclear cells in inflamed airway mucosa as well as broncho-alveolar macrophages were identified as one source of NGF production. Splenic mononuclear cells from allergen-sensitized mice produced NGF in response to allergen. They responded to exogenously added NGF with a dose-dependent increase in IL-4 and IL-5 production and augmented IgE and IgG1 synthesis. In contrast, IFN-gamma and IgG2alpha levels remained unaffected. The effects were NGF specific, since they could be blocked by an anti-NGF-antibody. Nasal application of anti-NGF to allergen-sensitized mice significantly reduced IL-4 and prevented development of airway hyperreactivity. These results show that allergic airway inflammation is accompanied by enhanced local NGF production that acts as an amplifier for Th2 effector functions and plays an important role in the development of airway hyperreactivity. Therefore it is suggested that NGF may serve as a link between the immune and nerve system.