Previously it was demonstrated that malignant transformation of the Syrian hamster cheek pouch mucosa is associated with the expression of TGF-alpha. Therefore in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry was used to investigate the cellular sources of TGF-alpha production in this model system. Surprisingly one cell type in the inflammatory infiltrate present in the connective tissue adjacent to the transformed epithelium represented a major source of TGF-alpha mRNA. Detailed analysis of these cells revealed that they were eosinophils. In addition to TGF-alpha mRNA, about 40% of the eosinophils associated with the oral tumors exhibited TGF-alpha product reactive with a monoclonal antibody against the C terminus of the mature TGF-alpha peptide. Normal hamster bone marrow eosinophils also exhibited TGF-alpha mRNA and product by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry. These results suggest that the eosinophil represents a biologically significant source of TGF-alpha.