To determine whether oral slow-release theophylline inhibits asthmatic reactions and the associated increase of airway responsiveness to methacholine induced by allergens, we examined six asthmatic subjects who developed a dual asthmatic reactions after allergen bronchoprovocation with Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus or with grass pollen. We gave oral slow-release theophylline and placebo to each subject for seven days in two series of experiments in a double-blind, randomized, crossover study. The individual daily dose of theophylline (4.7 to 16.6 mg/kg/day, divided into two doses) was calculated for each subject by measuring individual theophylline clearance and optimal daily dosage. During treatment with placebo, the subjects developed dual asthmatic reactions, ie, FEV1 decreased from 4.1 +/- 0.17 L before bronchoprovocation to 3.2 +/- 0.14 L at 15 minutes and to 3.2 +/- 0.19 L at seven hours after allergen bronchoprovocation. By contrast, during active treatment FEV1 decreased from 4.2 +/- 0.28 L to 3.9 +/- 0.26 L at 15 minutes, and to 3.8 +/- 0.13 L at seven hours (both cases, P less than .03 compared with placebo). Mean serum theophylline concentration was 13.2 +/- 0.6 mg/L. Although 1 week's treatment with slow-release theophylline did not modify significantly either prechallenge airway responsiveness to methacholine or its increase after allergen inhalation challenge, in five out of six subjects theophylline significantly inhibited the increase of airway responsiveness to methacholine induced by allergens compared to placebo and control day (P less than .05). These results suggest that slow-release theophylline may inhibit allergen-induced asthmatic reactions and the associated increase of airway responsiveness, suggesting some antiinflammatory effects for this drug.