The role of IL-5 and eosinophils in allograft rejection was studied in human liver allograft recipients. Liver allograft biopsies were analyzed for intragraft IL-5 gene expression, and the percentages of eosinophils and plasma cells within the portal infiltrate as well as peripheral eosinophil levels were determined. The majority of allografts with evidence of rejection had concomitant IL-5 mRNA and eosinophilia, while no resolving or nonrejecting allografts had simultaneous IL-5 mRNA and eosinophilia. In fact, rejecting liver allografts that contain IL-5 mRNA and eosinophils also contain infiltrating cells that produce the cytotoxic mediator major basic protein. In contrast, intragraft plasma cell and peripheral eosinophil levels did not correlate with the histopathologic status of the allograft. Cyclosporine and FK506 had similar effects on the frequency of IL-5 gene expression in rejecting and nonrejecting allografts. However, OKT3 appeared to profoundly modulate IL-5 gene expression, since 0 of 11 biopsies obtained during OKT3 treatment for rejection contained IL-5 transcripts. These observations raise the possibility of a cellular pathway of liver allograft rejection mediated by IL-5-activated eosinophils.