Distal lung inflammation may be important in asthma pathophysiology. The goal of this study was to measure cellular inflammation in the large airway and four distal lung regions (small airway inner and outer wall, alveolar attachments, and peripheral alveolar tissue) and to correlate the specific inflammatory cells with several lung function parameters. Sections of concurrently obtained endobronchial and transbronchial/surgical biopsy tissue from 20 individuals with severe asthma were immunostained for T-lymphocyte, eosinophil, monocyte/macrophage, neutrophil, and two mast cell markers (tryptase and chymase). Specific cell distributions were determined and correlated with lung function measures. The number of inflammatory cells generally increased toward the periphery, but the percentage of T-lymphocytes, eosinophils, monocytes/macrophages, and neutrophils remained similar or decreased from large to small airways. In contrast, mast cell number, percentage, and the chymase-positive phenotype increased in small airway regions. After the analysis was adjusted for multiple comparisons, only chymase-positive mast cells significantly and positively correlated with lung function. Such a relationship was seen only in the small airway/alveolar attachments lung region (r(s) = 0.61-0.89; p </= 0.001 for all correlations). These data suggest that induction of chymase-positive mast cells, particularly in the small airway outer wall/alveolar attachments region, may be protective for lung function in severe asthma.