Asthma has been linked to a chronic, T-cell-mediated bronchial inflammation. Because other T-lymphocyte-mediated, chronic inflammatory disorders have been associated with elevated granzyme B (grB) expression we tested the hypothesis that atopic asthma might be associated with elevated grB levels in the bronchoalveolar compartment. Therefore we performed intracellular grB staining in lymphocytes from bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) collected 42 h after segmental allergen provocation (SAP) in allergic patients with bronchial asthma. There was a significant increase in CD3(+), CD8(+), and CD16/56(+) lymphocytes expressing grB in BAL 42 h after SAP as compared to saline challenged controls. However, compared to peripheral blood the percentages of these lymphocyte subsets detected as grB(+) in BAL remained significantly lower. Measurement of extracellular grB in BAL fluids by a particle immunoassay revealed significantly elevated grB levels in the allergen challenged bronchoalveolar compartment 42 h following SAP in six of the eight patients (range, <1.0-348.1 pg/ml) as compared to saline challenged controls (range, <1.0-70.5 pg/ml). We conclude that total cell numbers of grB(+) lymphocyte subsets increase 42 h after SAP in the lower respiratory tract. In addition there is evidence to suggest that grB is released into the airways of asthmatic patients. This suggests a role for grB in the pathophysiological processes following SAP but its definitive role in allergic bronchial asthma needs to be established.