Asthmatic subjects prone to nocturnal worsening demonstrate overnight recruitment of inflammatory cells into the airways. The influence of dose timing on the ability of corticosteroids to block circadian recruitment of inflammatory cells into asthmatic airways and attenuate the nocturnal worsening of asthma is unclear. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design, we evaluated the response of seven asthmatic subjects with respect to overnight spirometry, blood eosinophil counts, and bronchoalveolar lavage cytology to a single variably timed 50 mg oral dose of prednisone given at 0800, 1500, or 2000 h. Compared to placebo, a single prednisone dose at 1500 h resulted in a reduction in the overnight percentage fall in FEV1 (-28.2 +/- 7.3 versus -10.4 +/- 4.5%, p = 0.04) and improvement in the 0400 h FEV1 (2.53 +/- 0.38 versus 3.43 +/- 0.38 L, p = 0.03). In contrast, neither a 0800 nor 2000 h prednisone dose compared to placebo resulted in overnight spirometric improvement. Also following the 1500 h prednisone dose, blood eosinophil counts were significantly reduced at both 2000 and 0400 h. Lastly, the 1500 h dosing resulted in a pan-cellular reduction in bronchoalveolar lavage cytology (p < or = to 0.05 for all cell lines compared to placebo), but neither alternative dose schedule significantly reduced any cell line. Our data support the relevance of timing of prednisone dose in altering the inflammatory milieu and spirometric decline associated with nocturnal worsening of asthma.