Maternal asthma significantly increases the risk of asthma in offspring, but the mechanisms remain poorly defined. We review animal models used to study the maternal effect, focusing on a murine model developed in our laboratory. Mother mice rendered allergic to ovalbumin produce offspring that are more susceptible to allergic sensitization, seen as airway hyperresponsiveness and allergic airway inflammation after a sensitization protocol, which has minimal effects on newborns from normal mothers. Mechanistic analyses identify a role for interleukin-4 (based on pre-mating injection of neutralizing antibodies), dendritic cells and allergen-specific T cells (based on adoptive transfer experiments). Other maternal exposures (e.g. pollutant exposure and non-pulmonary allergy) can increase asthma susceptibility in offspring. This observation implies that the maternal transmission of asthma represents a final common pathway to various types of inflammatory stimuli. Identification of the shared molecular mechanisms in these models may allow better prevention and therapy. Current knowledge, gaps in knowledge and future directions are discussed.