Adenosine 5'-monophosphate (AMP) and methacholine are commonly used to assess airway hyperreactivity. However, it is not fully known whether the site of airway constriction primarily involved during challenges with either agent is similar. Using a ventilation distribution test, we investigated whether the constriction induced by each agent involves the lung periphery in a similar fashion. Ventilation distribution was evaluated by the phase III slope (S) of the single-breath washout, using gases with different diffusivities like helium (He) and hexafluorosulfur (SF(6)). A greater postchallenge increase in S(He) reflects alterations at the level of terminal and respiratory bronchioles, while a greater increase in S(SF6) reflects alterations in alveolar ducts, increases to an equal extent reflecting alterations in more proximal airways where gas transport is still convective for both gases. S(SF6) and S(He) were measured in 15 asthma patients before and after airway challenges (20% forced expired volume in 1-s fall) with AMP and methacholine. S(He) increased to a greater extent than S(SF6) after AMP challenge (5.7 vs. 3.7%/l; P = 0.002), with both slopes increasing to an equal extent after methacholine challenge (3.1%/l; P = 0.959). The larger increase in S(He) following AMP challenge suggests distal ventilation impairment up to the level of terminal and respiratory bronchioles. With methacholine, the similar increases in S(He) and S(SF6) suggest a less distal impairment. AMP, therefore, seems to affect more extensively the very peripheral airways, whereas methacholine seems to have an effect on less distal airways.