To investigate the relationship between bronchial responsiveness and airway smooth-muscle (ASM) contractile properties, we studied inbred mice with known interstrain differences in airway responsiveness. Using oscillatory mechanics, we confirmed that A/J mice were hyperresponsive to methacholine (MCh) as compared with mice of the C3H/HeJ and C57BL/6J strains. Analysis of respiratory system resistance and elastance at different flow oscillation frequencies indicated that interstrain differences in responsiveness are present in both central and peripheral airways of these mice. We used video microscopy to measure the rate of contraction of explanted airways, and found that the airways of A/J mice contracted more rapidly than those of C3H/HeJ or C57BL/6J mice. In studies of a fourth strain (Balb/C) of mice, we found both bronchial hyperresponsiveness and increased ASM shortening velocity. The rank order of responsiveness among strains was the same as that for shortening velocity (A/J > Balb/C > C3H/HeJ > C57BL/6J). Furthermore, in each strain of mice, shortening velocity correlated with the achieved degree of airway narrowing and with a greater likelihood of airway closure in individual airways. In contrast, generation of isometric tension in trachealis, morphometric measurements of tracheal ASM, tracheal myosin content, and dose-response curves for MCh of explanted intraparenchymal bronchi failed to correspond to the in vivo phenotype of airway reactivity. These results indicate that bronchial responsiveness is related to ASM shortening velocity, and underscore the importance of smooth-muscle dynamics in understanding the mechanisms of bronchial responsiveness.