To determine whether a link exists between the recruitment of inflammatory cells in the airways and the development of the late-phase asthmatic reaction, we studied with bronchoalveolar lavage 54 asthmatic patients either at baseline (10 patients) or 4 h (11 patients), 24 h (13 patients), and 72 h (20 patients) after allergen inhalation challenge. Among the patients studied 4 h after allergen challenge, five were known to have a late-phase asthmatic response and showed a significant increase in the number and percentage of eosinophils in bronchoalveolar lavage compared with either patients without late-phase response (p less than 0.05) or unchallenged patients (p less than 0.01). Both the number and the percentage of eosinophils in bronchoalveolar lavage were also increased (p less than 0.05) in patients without a late-phase asthmatic reaction studied 24 h but not in those studied 4 h after allergen challenge. The numbers and the percentages of macrophages, neutrophils, or lymphocytes did not differ significantly among the different groups of patients. Of the patients studied 4 and 24 h after allergen challenge, only those with a late-phase asthmatic response showed an increased airway responsiveness to methacholine 1 h before bronchoalveolar lavage. We conclude that the development of the late-phase asthmatic response to allergen inhalation challenge and the allergen-induced increase in airway responsiveness are associated with an early recruitment of eosinophils in the airways.