Peripheral blood (PB) eosinophils rapidly undergo apoptosis and cell death in vitro unless cultured in the presence of cytokines such as granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) in which their survival is prolonged for up to 10 days. CD69 is a type II membrane antigen expressed by cytokine-activated, but not freshly isolated, PB human eosinophils. We have examined the effect of ligation of CD69 by specific monoclonal antibody (MoAb) on the viability of human eosinophils cultured with recombinant human (rh)GM-CSF. Eosinophils were purified by immunomagnetic selection and cultured with GM-CSF (10(-10) mol/L). Eighteen hours after the start of culture, a panel of CD69 MoAb or controls (anti-CR3 or isotype-matched control MoAb) were added. Viability was assessed by trypan blue exclusion and apoptosis by morphologic assessment, DNA laddering, and flow cytometric analysis of eosinophil red autofluorescence. Up to 50% of the eosinophils had undergone apoptosis 48 hours after addition of anti- CD69 MoAb compared with less than 10% apoptosis for CR3 or the isotype matched control. The majority of apoptotic eosinophils excluded trypan blue at 48 hours post CD69 ligation. More apoptotic eosinophils were observed at later time-points and this was associated with loss of viability. At 120 hours post-addition of the anti-CD69 MoAb MLR3, 24% +/- 10.6% eosinophils were viable compared with 84% +/- 3.4% for the CR3 control (P < .001). A F(ab)2 fragment of CD69 MoAb P8, also induced apoptosis in GM-CSF cultured eosinophils. A more rapid induction of eosinophil apoptosis was obtained with CD69 MoAb immobilized via their Fc portions on protein-A coated plastic 96 well plates. Ligation of CD69 or CR3 resulted in the release of comparable quantities of eosinophil peroxidase at 48 hours post-ligation. These levels of EPO were consistent with the viability of these cells at 48 hours as assessed by exclusion of trypan blue. Finally, a neutralizing MoAb to TGF beta 1 had no effect on CD69-dependent apoptosis induction nor were there detectable quantities of TGF beta 1 in supernatants from GM-CSF-- cultured eosinophils ligated with CD69 or control MoAb. These results suggest that eosinophils cultured with GM-CSF can be induced to undergo apoptosis as a result of cell signalling mediated by perturbation of CD69. This may represent an important physiologic mechanism for eosinophil removal in vivo.