Recently there have been important advances in our understanding of muscarinic receptors in airways that have important implications for understanding airway control and for future therapy of airway diseases. The transduction mechanisms involved in muscarinic receptor activation are now better understood. Receptor-linked phosphoinositide hydrolysis leads to release of calcium ions from intracellular stores, resulting in contraction of airway smooth muscle. At least five subtypes of muscarinic receptor have now been cloned, although only three subtypes can be distinguished pharmacologically. M1 receptors are facilitatory to neurotransmission in airway parasympathetic ganglion cells and have also been identified in airway submucosal glands and on the alveolar walls of human lung. M2 receptors are located on postganglionic nerves and function as powerful feedback inhibitory receptors (autoreceptors) that are likely to be involved in modulation of reflex bronchoconstriction. These receptors may be dysfunctional in asthmatic airways. M3 receptors are present on airway smooth muscle and submucosal glands and mediate the classical muscarinic effects in airways. Molecular biology techniques should now allow further study of the factors that regulate transcription and expression of muscarinic receptors in airways.