Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a respiratory tract pathogen associated with exacerbations in patients with chronic asthma, yet relatively little is known about the potential role of this organism in asthma pathogenesis. Our previous studies demonstrated that RBL-2H3 mast cells co-cultured with M. pneumoniae released preformed inflammatory mediators, synthesized multiple cytokine mRNA species, and released IL-4 protein. In this study, we sought to determine the mechanism by which M. pneumoniae activates mast cell cytokine production. Cytokine mRNA upregulation and IL-4 protein production in RBL cells were induced almost exclusively by plastic-adherent M. pneumoniae cultures (MpA). Organisms grown under non-adherent conditions (MpN) were unable to induce cytokine responses efficiently. Western blots demonstrated that MpA was enriched for P1, the major M. pneumoniae adhesin, compared to MpN. M. pneumoniae-induced IL-4 release from RBL cells was inhibited >85% by anti-P1 monoclonal antibodies. Additionally, a P1-deficient strain of the bacteria was unable to efficiently induce IL-4 release. Desialation of RBL cell surface glycoproteins by neuraminidase treatment eliminated IL-4 release. We conclude that P1 plays an important role in M. pneumoniae-induced cytokine responses in RBL mast cells and that direct contact between the organism and sialated residues on the RBL surface mediates this activation. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.