We have investigated the effect of adhesion to fibronectin (Fn) on the survival of eosinophils in culture. Peripheral blood eosinophils from normal human donors were separated by immunomagnetic selection and cultured in RPMI on Fn- (100 micrograms/ml) coated microtiter plates for up to 96 h. Survival was measured by trypan blue exclusion. There was a significant enhancement of eosinophil survival with Fn as compared with both bovine serum albumin-coated and uncoated wells (p < 0.05-0.01). Fn-induced eosinophil survival was comparable to that obtained with exogenous interleukin 3 (IL-3) or granulocyte/macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and was inhibitable by antibodies against Fn, very late antigen 4 (VLA-4), IL-3, and GM-CSF. Supernatants from Fn-, but not BSA-coated wells contained picogram amounts of IL-3 and GM-CSF, and eosinophils cultured on Fn for 24 h expressed mRNA for GM-CSF as determined by in situ hybridization. Therefore, Fn prolongs eosinophil survival in culture by triggering autocrine generation of cytokines by eosinophils. Since neutrophils lack VLA-4, this could provide a partial explanation for the preferential accumulation of eosinophils at sites of allergic inflammation, as well as the predominant tissue localization of eosinophils in healthy individuals.