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Recent attention has focused on the T helper type 2 (Th2) lymphocyte as a source of interleukin 4 (IL-4) in allergic disease. However, Th2 cells themselves require a pulse of IL-4 to initiate this synthesis. Here we provide immunohistochemical evidence of IL-4 localization to human mast cells of the skin and respiratory tract, and demonstrate that immunoglobulin E-dependent stimulation of purified human lung mast cells leads to the rapid release of IL-4 into the extracellular environment. We propose that mast cell activation in an allergic response provides a rapid and local pulse of IL-4 into the local environment essential for the triggering of T lymphocytes into sustained IL-4 production and to initiate inflammatory cell accumulation and activation.