We have used fiberoptic bronchoscopy to obtain endobronchial biopsies in which mast cells and eosinophils were enumerated using monoclonal antibodies directed against mast cell tryptase (AA1) and the eosinophil cationic protein (EG2). Eleven symptomatic atopic asthmatics treated with beta 2-agonists alone and six normal subjects were studied. Over a period of 2 wk prior to bronchoscopy, patients recorded asthma symptom scores, bronchodilator usage, and twice-daily peak expiratory flow. Five days before bronchoscopy, methacholine responsiveness was assessed. Two biopsies were taken from the subcarinae, one of which was processed into araldite for immunostaining by the streptavidin biotin immunoperoxidase method and the other into Spurr resin for electron microscopy. The number of AA1 staining mast cells present in the bronchial mucosa was not significantly different in the epithelium or submucosa between the asthmatic and the normal subjects. However, in the biopsies from asthmatics, there were significantly greater numbers of EG2-staining eosinophils in the epithelium (median, 1.2/mm versus zero; p less than 0.005) and in the submucosa (median, 50/mm2 versus 1/mm2; p less than 0.001). Electron microscopy showed morphologic features of mast cell and eosinophil degranulation in the asthmatics. No correlation could be established between mast cell or eosinophil numbers and indices of disease activity of PC20 methacholine, which points to the complexity of mechanisms responsible for the symptoms and the airway hyperresponsiveness of asthma.