To study the physiopathology and significance of asymptomatic airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR), the clinical and bronchial immunohistological parameters were evaluated in subjects with asymptomatic and symptomatic AHR. Asymptomatic subjects with AHR (eight females/two males, no respiratory symptoms, provocative concentration of methacholine causing a 20% fall in forced expiratory volume in one second (PC20) <8 mg x mL(-1) and no treatment) were compared with asthmatic subjects paired for age, sex and PC20, and with nonatopic, nonasthmatic controls paired for age and sex. All three groups were evaluated once at baseline, whilst the asymptomatic AHR subjects were re-evaluated after 1 and 2 yrs. Measurements included spirometry, methacholine challenge, serum immunoglobulin (Ig)E, blood eosinophils, and bronchoscopy (at baseline and after 2 yrs only). At first evaluation, the mean blood eosinophil count, total serum IgE level, atopic index, baseline forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) and the degree of bronchial epithelial desquamation of the asymptomatic AHR subjects were similar to those of asthmatic subjects. However, they presented focal rather than the continuous bronchial subepithelial fibrosis observed in asthmatics. Their mucosal CD3, CD4, CD25, EG1 and EG2-positive cell counts were intermediate between those of the control subjects and asthmatics. At the end of the 2-yr follow-up, four of them had developed asthma symptoms. At this time, bronchial biopsies revealed an increase in the extent of subepithelial fibrosis and in the number of CD25 and CD4-positive cells, and a decrease in the number of CD8+ cells, particularly in subjects who developed asthma symptoms. These data suggest that asymptomatic airway hyperresponsiveness is associated with airway inflammation and remodelling, and that the appearance of asthma symptoms is associated with an increase in these features, particularly the CD4/CD8 ratio and airway fibrosis. Consequently, this study proposes an association between asymptomatic airway hyperresponsiveness and airway inflammation, structural changes and asthma although these relationships remain to be further evaluated.