AIMS--Tissue fibrosis is a common and serious consequence of chronic inflammation. The mechanism linking these two processes is poorly understood. The present study has utilised a human in vivo model of a delayed type hypersensitivity (DTH) reaction, the tuberculin Heaf reaction, induced by intradermal tuberculin in BCG immunised subjects, to dissect the relation between these two processes. METHODS--Punch skin biopsy specimens were obtained on day 5, day 13 and six to 16 weeks following the tuberculin Heaf test in 18 subjects with grade 3 or 4 responses. Skin biopsy specimens from six subjects served as controls. The specimens were examined using immunohistochemical staining for type 1 procollagen and transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta), as well as in situ hybridisation for type 1 procollagen messenger RNA (mRNA). RESULTS--Immunohistochemical analysis revealed increased deposition of TGF-beta in tissue matrix in the biopsy specimens obtained on day 5 following the tuberculin Heaf test. There was also extensive type 1 procollagen staining in the biopsy specimens obtained as early as day 5. Procollagen-1 staining was maximal on day 13, and was present in biopsy specimens from tuberculin Heaf test sites up to eight weeks after the tuberculin inoculation. The type 1 procollagen was localised within cells surrounding areas of inflammatory infiltrate and in perivascular tissues. The presence of new collagen formation was confirmed by in situ hybridisation using oligonucleotide probes for type 1 procollagen mRNA in cells in sections from biopsy specimens obtained on day 13. CONCLUSIONS--These data from a human in vivo model of a DTH response indicate that the immune response is intimately associated with an increase in the production of growth factors and the initiation of a fibrotic response.