This study reports the presence of oval-shaped pores in the basement membrane of the human bronchial airway that may be used as conduits for immune cells to traffic between the epithelial and mesenchymal compartments. Human bronchial mucosa collected after surgery was stripped of epithelial cells without damaging the basement membrane. Both scanning and transmission electron microscopy showed oval-shaped pores 0.75 to 3.85 microm in diameter in the bronchial basement membrane at a density of 863 pores/mm2. Transmission electron microscopy showed that the pores spanned the full depth of the basement membrane, with a concentration of collagen-like fibers at the lateral edges of the pore. Infiltrating cells apparently moved through the pores, both in the presence and absence of the epithelium. Taken together, these results suggest that immune cells use basement membrane pores as predefined routes to move between the epithelial and mesenchymal compartments without disruption of the basement membrane. As a persistent feature of the basement membrane, pores could facilitate inflammatory cell access to the epithelium and greatly increase the frequency of intercellular contact between trafficking cells.