AIMS--To determine the prevalence of cells secreting interleukin-4 (IL-4) in the gut mucosa of children with chronic inflammatory bowel disease. METHODS--Mononuclear cells were isolated from intestinal biopsy specimens from control children (n = 10) and children with active inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease n = 15, ulcerative colitis n = 9, indeterminate colitis n = 3). Spontaneous IL-4 production was then measured by SPOT-enzyme linked immunosorbant assay (ELISA) using a pair of non-competing anti-IL-4 monoclonal antibodies. The percentage of T cells in the isolated cells were also determined and the prevalence of IL-4 secreting cells calculated per 10,000 T cells. RESULTS--In control children the mean number of IL-4 secreting cells was 15.1 per 10,000 T cells. In Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis the means were 5.3 and 5.2, respectively. In two children with indeterminate colitis numbers were also low. There was no difference in the percentage of T cells in the cell preparations isolated from each patient group. The reduction of IL-4 secreting cells in patients with Crohn's disease was not caused by steroids. CONCLUSIONS--In idiopathic inflammatory bowel disease IL-4 secreting cells are reduced in diseased mucosa.