Adenosine provokes bronchoconstriction in asthmatics through acute activation of mast cells, but its potential role in chronic inflammation has not been adequately characterized. We hypothesized that adenosine up-regulates Th2 cytokines in mast cells, thus promoting IgE synthesis by B lymphocytes. We tested this hypothesis in human mast cells (HMC-1) expressing A(2A), A(2B), and A(3) adenosine receptors. The adenosine analog 5'-N-ethylcarboxamidoadenosine (NECA) (10 microM) increased mRNA expression of IL-1beta, IL-3, IL-4, IL-8, and IL-13, but not IL-2 and IFN-gamma. Up-regulation of IL-4 and IL-13 was verified using RT-PCR and ELISA; 10 microM NECA increased IL-13 concentrations in HMC-1 conditioned medium 28-fold, from 7.6 +/- 0.3 to 215 +/- 4 pg/ml, and increased IL-4 concentrations 6-fold, from 19.2 +/- 0.1 to 117 +/- 2 pg/ml. This effect was mediated by A(2B) receptors because neither the selective A(2A) agonist 2-p-(2-carboxyethyl)phenethylamino-NECA nor the selective A(3) agonist N(6)-(3-iodobenzyl)-N-methyl-5'-carbamoyladenosine reproduced it, and the selective A(2B) antagonist 3-isobutyl-8-pyrrolidinoxanthine prevented it. Constitutive expression of CD40 ligand on HMC-1 surface was not altered by NECA. Human B lymphocytes cocultured for 12 days with NECA-stimulated HMC-1 produced 870 +/- 33 pg IgE per 10(6) B cells, whereas lymphocytes cocultured with nonstimulated HMC-1, or cultured alone in the absence or in the presence of NECA, produced no IgE. Thus, we demonstrated induction of IgE synthesis by the interaction between adenosine-stimulated mast cells and B lymphocytes, and suggest that this mechanism is involved in the amplification of the allergic inflammatory responses associated with asthma.