The clinical significance of minimal acute rejection (grade A1) in lung transplant recipients is unknown. We prospectively analyzed 1,159 transbronchial lung biopsies in 184 patients. Two hundred seventy-nine biopsies in 128 participants confirmed A1 histology at a mean postoperative day of 229 +/- 340. Sixty four of 255 surveillance A1 lesions progressed to high-grade acute rejection by 3 months of follow-up, whereas 40 developed new lymphocytic bronchiolitis. Twenty-four A1 biopsies were symptomatic, with only two cases progressing to high-grade rejection after steroid therapy. Seventy-eight of 184 patients experienced multiple (> or = 2) A1 biopsies in the first 12 months after transplant. Bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome developed in 68% of patients with multiple A1 lesions at a mean of 599 +/- 435 days, compared with 43% of patients with one or less A1 lesions at a mean of 819 +/- 526 (p = 0.022). Eighteen patients experienced multiple A1 biopsies after transplant in the absence of high-grade rejection episodes yet also developed earlier obliterative bronchiolitis (456 +/- 245 days, p = 0.020). We conclude that for A1 transbronchial lung biopsies, the conventional treatment of observation only is now challenged even in patients who are asymptomatic. Patients who experience multiple A1 lesions develop an earlier onset of obliterative bronchiolitis and may warrant alternative immunosuppressive strategies.