Bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), the chronic lung disease of prematurity, may be associated with long-term airflow limitation. Survivors of BPD may develop asthma-like symptoms in childhood, with a variable response to beta(2)-agonists. However, the pathologic pathways underlying these respiratory manifestations are still unknown. The aim of this study was to measure exhaled nitric oxide (FE(NO)) and lung function in a group of 31 school-age survivors of BPD. They showed variable degrees of airflow obstruction (mean FEV(1) 77.8 +/- 2.3% predicted) unresponsive to beta(2)-agonists in 72% of the subjects. Their FE(NO) values (geometric mean [95% confidence interval]: 7.7 [+/- 1.1] ppb) were significantly lower than in a group of healthy matched control subjects born at term (10.7 [+/- 1.1] ppb, p < 0.05) and a group of preterm children without BPD (9.9 [+/- 1.1] ppb, p < 0.05). The children with BPD were also compared with a group of 31 patients with asthma with a comparable airflow limitation (FEV(1) 80.2 +/- 2.1% predicted) and showed FE(NO) values four times lower than in those with asthma (24.9 [+/- 1.2] ppb, p < 0.001). In conclusion, unlike children with asthma, school-age survivors of BPD have airflow limitation associated with low FE(NO) values and lack of reversibility to beta(2)-agonists, probably as a result of mechanisms related to early life structural changes in the airways.