Allergic mucosal inflammation is characterized by tissue infiltration with eosinophils, and associated activation of mast cells and T lymphocytes. Tumour necrosis factor (TNF) alpha/cachectin is a candidate cytokine relevant to the pathogenesis of these events through its capacity to upregulate the expression of endothelial cell adhesion molecules, mediate granulocyte chemoattraction, and activate eosinophils, mast cells and T cells. To investigate the presence and localization of TNF α in the nasal mucosa in allergic rhinitis, nasal biopsies from perennial rhinitic (n=13) and non-rhinitic volunteers (n=11) were embedded in glycol methacrylate and immunostained with a monoclonal antibody directed against TNF α, and adjacent 2μm sections stained for tryptase, CD3 and eosinophil cationic protein. This identified positive immunostaining for TNF α in the submucosa of both the rhinitic and normal subjects (median cell counts 13 and 23 cells/mm2 respectively, P=0.24) with cellular localization to mast cells but not to T-lymphocytes or eosinophils. In a subsequent study of seven atopic subjects, nasal allergen challenge produced increases in lavage levels of histamine and albumin, which was associated with significant release of TNF α as early as 2 min post-allergen when compared with the saline control day (P=0.5). This difference was also apparent when studying the area under the curve both at 30 and 60 min post-challenge t-test (P=0.015 and 0.02 respectively). These findings which both locate immunoreactive TNF α to nasal mast cells and identify its release following in vivo exposure to allergen, provide evidence for mast cells as an important source of this cytokine in patients with allergic rhinitis.