Asthma is a disease characterized by chronic inflammation and reversible obstruction of the small airways resulting in impaired pulmonary ventilation. Hyperpolarized 3He magnetic resonance (MR) lung imaging is a new technology that provides a detailed image of lung ventilation. Hyperpolarized 3He lung imaging was performed in 10 asthmatics and 10 healthy subjects. Seven asthmatics had ventilation defects distributed throughout the lungs compared with none of the normal subjects. These ventilation defects were more numerous and larger in the two symptomatic asthmatics who had abnormal spirometry. Ventilation defects studied over time demonstrated no change in appearance over 30-60 minutes. One asthmatic subject was studied twice in a three-week period and had ventilation defects which resolved and appeared in that time. This same subject was studied before and after bronchodilator therapy, and all ventilation defects resolved after therapy. Hyperpolarized 3He lung imaging can detect the small, reversible ventilation defects that characterize asthma. The ability to visualize lung ventilation offers a direct method of assessing asthmatics and their response to therapy.