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When mast cells are activated through their immunoglobulin (Ig)E receptors, release of low molecular weight mediators like histamine is followed by secretion of multiple cytokines, including interleukin (IL)- 3, IL-4, IL-5, and granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor. Here we report that stimulated mast cells also synthesize IL-13 mRNA and protein; secretion of this cytokine may be of particular importance because of its ability to stimulate IgE expression. IL-13 transcripts detected by a semiquantitative reverse transcriptase-mediated polymerase chain reaction assay were induced within 30 min after stimulation of mast cells by dinitrophenyl plus monoclonal IgE anti- dinitrophenyl, and peaked at about 1 h. Within 3 h of IgE stimulation, secreted IL-13 bioactivity, estimated by proliferation of an IL-13- dependent cell line, reached levels equivalent to 1-2 ng/ml of IL-13. When added to human B lymphocytes, the mast cell-derived IL-13 activity (like bone fide IL-13) induced Ig C epsilon transcripts, DNA recombination characteristic of the isotype switch to C epsilon, and the secretion of IgE protein. These results suggest a model of local positive feedback interactions between mast cells and B cells, which could play a role in the pathogenesis of atopy.