Daily variations in ambient particulate air pollution are associated with variations in respiratory lung function. It has been suggested that the effects of particulate matter may be due to particles in the ultrafine (0.01-0.1 microm) size range. Because previous studies on ultrafine particles only used self-monitored peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), we assessed the associations between particle mass and number concentrations in several size ranges measured at a central site and measured (biweekly) spirometric lung function among a group of 54 adult asthmatics (n = 495 measurements). We also compared results to daily morning, afternoon, and evening PEFR measurements done at home (n = 7,672-8,110 measurements). The median (maximum) 24 hr number concentrations were 14,500/cm(3) (46,500/cm(3)) ultrafine particles and 800/cm(3) (2,800/cm(3)) accumulation mode (0.1-1 microm) particles. The median (maximum) mass concentration of PM(2.5) (particulate matter < 2.5 microm) and PM(10) (particulate matter < 10 microm in aerodynamic diameter) were 8.4 microg/m(3) (38.3 microg/m(3)) and 13.5 microg/m(3) (73.7 microg/m(3)), respectively. The number of accumulation mode particles was consistently inversely associated with PEFR in spirometry. Inverse, but nonsignificant, associations were observed with ultrafine particles, and no associations were observed with large particles (PM(10)). Compared to the effect estimates for self-monitored PEFR, the effect estimates for spirometric PEFR tended to be larger. The standard errors were also larger, probably due to the lower number of spirometric measurements. The present results support the need to monitor the particle number and size distributions in urban air in addition to mass.