Eosinophil differentiation is thought to occur by the action of interleukin (IL)-5 on CD34(+) progenitor cells. The allergen-induced increase in eosinophil numbers in isolated airway preparations in vitro, and detection of increased numbers of circulating CD34(+) cells in atopic subjects, led us to the hypothesis that the eosinophil infiltration of the airway in asthma may result from local mucosal differentiation, in addition to recruitment from the bone marrow. We examined CD34(+) cell numbers by immunohistochemistry and IL-5 receptor alpha (IL-5Ralpha) messenger RNA (mRNA) expression by in situ hybridization in bronchial biopsies from atopic asthmatic patients, and from atopic and nonatopic control subjects. CD34(+) cell numbers were increased in the airway in atopic asthmatic and atopic nonasthmatic subjects. In contrast, CD34(+)/ IL-5Ralpha mRNA+ cells were increased in asthmatic subjects when compared with both atopic and nonatopic control subjects. Airway numbers of CD34(+)/IL-5Ralpha mRNA+ cells were correlated to airway caliber in asthmatic subjects and to eosinophil numbers. These findings support the concept that eosinophils may differentiate locally in the airway in asthma.