The objectives of this study were to determine the kinetics of Sendai virus-induced increases in bronchiolar mast cells and to determine whether virus-induced increases in bronchiolar mast cells were associated with increased airway responsiveness to methacholine and with altered allergic inflammatory responses to antigen stimulation. Mast cell density in intrapulmonary airways was measured in outbred CD (Crl:CDBR) rats by use of morphometric techniques at 7, 15, 30, 60, and 90 days after viral or sham inoculation. Density of bronchiolar mast cells was higher in virus-inoculated rats than in control rats at 30, 60, and 90 days after inoculation (P less than 0.01), but not at 7 or 15 days after inoculation. Total pulmonary mast cell numbers were increased in virus-inoculated rats at 30 days after inoculation. Rats at 42 days after viral inoculation had over a threefold increase in sensitivity to the concentration of nebulized metbacholine that would stimulate a 50% increase in respiratory resistance. Virus-inoculated rats sensitized to ovalbumin had over a 10-fold increase (P less than 0.02) in pulmonary neutrophils that were recovered by bronchoalveolar lavage at 4 hours after ovalbumin aerosol challenge. Virus-inoculated rats at this time also had higher densities of neutrophils in bronchiolar walls than allergen-exposed control rats. The results indicate that Sendai virus induces increases in numbers of bronchiolar mast cells at times from 30 to 90 days after inoculation, and that mast cell increases are associated with airway hyperresponsiveness to methacholine and heightened allergic airway inflammatory reactions.