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By in situ hybridization, 44-100% of the blood eosinophils from five patients with hypereosinophilia and four normal subjects exhibited intense hybridization signals for TNF-alpha mRNA. TNF-alpha protein was detectable by immunohistochemistry in blood eosinophils of hypereosinophilic subjects, and purified blood eosinophils from three atopic donors exhibited cycloheximide-inhibitable spontaneous release of TNF-alpha in vitro. Many blood eosinophils (39-91%) from hypereosinophilic donors exhibited intense labeling for macrophage inflammatory protein-1 alpha (MIP-1 alpha) mRNA, whereas eosinophils of normal donors demonstrated only weak or undetectable hybridization signals for MIP-1 alpha mRNA. Most tissue eosinophils infiltrating nasal polyps were strongly positive for both TNF-alpha and MIP-1 alpha mRNA. By Northern blot analysis, highly enriched blood eosinophils from a patient with the idiopathic hypereosinophilic syndrome exhibited differential expression of TNF-alpha and MIP-1 alpha mRNA. These findings indicate that human eosinophils represent a potential source of TNF-alpha and MIP-1 alpha, that levels of expression of mRNA for both cytokines are high in the blood eosinophils of hypereosinophilic donors and in eosinophils infiltrating nasal polyps, that the eosinophils of normal subjects express higher levels of TNF-alpha than MIP-1 alpha mRNA, and that eosinophils purified from the blood of atopic donors can release TNF-alpha in vitro.