Individuals exposed to inhaled endotoxin (lipopolysaccharide [LPS]) can develop airway symptomatology and exacerbations of asthma. Moreover, among those occupationally exposed to organic dusts, the progression of airflow obstruction is related to the endotoxin concentration in the bioaerosol. Not everyone exposed to high concentrations of LPS develops these problems. To determine whether individuals express a differential response to inhaled LPS, we challenged 72 healthy volunteers with increasing doses of LPS. Airflow was assessed after each dose and the protocol was terminated for decline in FEV1 >/= 20%. Marked differences in the response to inhaled LPS were observed: eight "sensitive" subjects had at least 20% decline in their FEV1 after inhaling 6.5 micrograms or less of LPS, whereas 11 "hyporesponsive" subjects maintained an FEV1 >/= 90% of their baseline even after inhaling 41.5 micrograms of LPS. Serial testing demonstrated that the response to inhaled LPS is reproducible. Sensitive subjects were more commonly female and hyporesponsive subjects were more often male (p = 0.016). Peripheral blood monocytes from hyporesponsive subjects, compared with sensitive subjects, released less interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8. These findings demonstrate that an LPS phenotype can be reproducibly elicited in humans, which creates an opportunity to identify genes involved in this response to inhaled LPS.