The role of human basophils in bronchial asthma has been hard to define. In this study, we used the basophil-specific monoclonal antibody (mAb), 2D7, in postmortem lung sections from individuals who die in status asthmaticus (fatal asthma [FA]) to determine if the pathology of FA is associated with an increase in basophil numbers in the lung. As controls, we used lung sections of patients who had a history of asthma but died from nonasthmatic causes (nonfatal asthma [NFA]) as well as patients with no history of asthma (control [C]). In lung sections from all three groups, basophils were scattered throughout the large and small airways, airway epithelium, submucosa, and alveolar walls. The numbers of basophils in the lungs of patients with FA ranged from 41 to 119 cells/mm(2), significantly more than the numbers of basophils in lungs from individuals with a history of asthma (NFA; 0 to 16 cells/ mm(2)) and in the control lungs (C; 0 to 13 cells/mm(2)). In contrast, CD45-positive cells were not significantly different in the airways of FA and NFA, although there were significant increases in the two groups compared with control subjects. In summary, basophil infiltration was significantly increased in lungs from individuals who died from asthma, supporting the hypothesis that basophils are involved in the pathogenesis of FA.