The relationship between airway responsiveness to methacholine and inflammatory cells in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) was determined in patients with history of rhinitis and/or mild bronchial asthma either at baseline (10 patients) or 3-4 h after allergen inhalation challenge (11 patients). At baseline, airway responsiveness did not correlate with any BAL cell population. When data obtained after allergen challenge were included in the analysis, 44% of the variability of airway responsiveness was explained by a multiple regression model with BAL eosinophils as a directly correlated (P = 0.002) independent variable and with BAL macrophages as an inversely correlated (P = 0.045) independent variable. Changes in airway responsiveness after allergen challenge were predicted (82% of variance explained) by a model with BAL eosinophils and BAL lymphocytes as directly correlated (P = 0.0002 and P = 0.03, respectively) independent variables. We conclude that, in stable asymptomatic asthma, baseline airway responsiveness does not correlate with the presence in the airways of inflammatory and immunoeffector cells that can be recovered by BAL. Nevertheless the allergen-induced increase in airway responsiveness is associated with an influx of eosinophils and lymphocytes in the bronchial lumen.