Specific bronchial reactivity (SBR) to common inhalants is related to the degree of nonspecific bronchial reactivity (NSBR) and to specific allergen sensitivity. We investigated 16 workers with normal NSBR who had been previously diagnosed with occupational asthma caused by high-molecular-weight agents. The agents were flour in seven workers, psyllium in five, and guar gum in four. The subjects had been removed from exposure to these agents for a mean of 5.7 (+/- 4.0 SD) yr, no longer showed evidence of persisting asthma, and had a normal lung function. In the present study, the workers were reexposed to the sensitizing agent by specific inhalation challenges, in the same way they were as at the time of the diagnosis, to assess their current SBR to the sensitizer. SBR was estimated as the duration of exposure that induced a 20% decrease in FEV(1). Eleven of the 16 subjects had an asthmatic reaction at the time of the study; the duration of exposure necessary to induce the asthmatic reaction was the same as that needed at the time of diagnosis (3.55 +/- 0.5 min and 4.2 +/- 0.7 min, respectively, p = 0.8). The decrease in specific IgE levels between the two events was much greater in the subjects who failed to react to the second challenge test (from 24.2 +/- 37.5% to 3.0 +/- 16.9% binding) than in those who reacted on both occasions (from 31.2 +/- 27.0% to 21.6 +/- 36.7% binding); however, in both groups the change was significant (p = 0.05 and 0.04, respectively). We conclude that SBR to high-molecular-weight agents persists in most cases despite a normalization of NSBR, and that this persistence is associated with a persistence of specific immunization to the agent.