The concentration of nitric oxide (NO) in exhaled air is increased in patients with asthma, suggesting that measuring fractional exhaled NO concentration (FE(NO)) may be used to monitor asthmatic airway inflammation. However, increased FE(NO) is not specific for asthma, as other inflammatory lung diseases may also increase FE(NO). To augment the specificity of FE(NO) measurement, we tested a novel theoretical modelling of pulmonary NO dynamics that allows the approximation of alveolar NO concentration and bronchial NO flux separately by measuring FE(NO) at several exhalation flow rates. We measured FE(NO) at four exhalation flow rates in 10 steroid-naive asthmatics, 5 patients with extrinsic allergic alveolitis, and in 10 healthy controls. Both the asthmatics and the patients with alveolitis had significantly higher FE(NO) than the healthy controls. The increased NO concentration originated from the bronchial level in the asthmatics and from the alveolar level in the patients with alveolitis. In the second part of the study we assessed the repeatability of FE(NO) test, within-day and day-to-day (during two weeks) variation in FE(NO), and the effects of mouth pressure and cigarette smoking on FE(NO) in healthy volunteers. Repeatability of 10 subsequent measurements was high (coefficient of variation (CV) 4.6% +/- 0.4%), and no diurnal variation was found. The day-to-day variation during a 2-week period gave a CV of 10.6% +/- 1.0%. The magnitude of mouth pressure (5-20 cmH2O in adults, 5-40 cmH2O in children) during measurement had no effect on FE(NO). Smoking a cigarette caused a small and transient but statistically significant increase in FE(NO) at 1 and 5 min after smoking. In conclusion, FE(NO) measurement is highly repeatable with low day-to-day variation among healthy subjects. Our results also suggest that the present novel method of measuring FE(NO) at several exhalation flow rates can be used to approximate alveolar and bronchial contributions to FE(NO) separately and thus increase the clinical value of this test.