Airways inflammation is thought to play a central role in the pathogenesis of asthma. However, the precise role that individual inflammatory cells and mediators play in the development of airways hyperreactivity and the morphological changes of the lung during allergic pulmonary inflammation is unknown. In this investigation we have used a mouse model of allergic pulmonary inflammation and interleukin (IL) 5-deficient mice to establish the essential role of this cytokine and eosinophils in the initiation of aeroallergen-induced lung damage and the development of airways hyperreactivity. Sensitization and aerosol challenge of mice with ovalbumin results in airways eosinophilia and extensive lung damage analogous to that seen in asthma. Aeroallergen-challenged mice also display airways hyperreactivity to beta-methacholine. In IL-5-deficient mice, the eosinophilia, lung damage, and airways hyperreactivity normally resulting from aeroallergen challenge were abolished. Reconstitution of IL-5 production with recombinant vaccinia viruses engineered to express this factor completely restored aeroallergen-induced eosinophilia and airways dysfunction. These results indicate that IL-5 and eosinophils are central mediators in the pathogenesis of allergic lung disease.