A high prevalence of asthmalike symptoms was noted among patients of Puerto Rican descent attending Beth Israel and North Central Bronx Medical Centers in New York City, as compared with other ethnic groups. An evaluation of family and medical histories, pulmonary function data, and alpha 1-antitrypsin phenotypes was undertaken in such Puerto Rican patients and control subjects without asthma. The patients showed a higher proportion of MS and MV phenotypes. All the patients in both MM and variant phenotype groups, with the exception of four MM patients, had features indicative of asthma, with labile airway obstruction, and elevated serum immunoglobulin E and eosinophil levels. The latter was significantly higher in the patients with variant phenotypes than in MM patients. Patients with alpha 1-antitrypsin variants also had much shorter smoking histories as compared with the MM group, and all reported histories of asthma in first-degree relatives, as compared with 66% among the MM patients. We conclude that there is an increased incidence of asthma among Puerto Ricans in New York City, and that the antitrypsin variant phenotypes (specifically S and V) play a role in this incidence and its expression.