We have performed bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) on 17 subjects with mild atopic asthma (9 symptomatic, 8 asymptomatic) and 14 nonasthmatic control subjects (6 hay fever, 8 nonatopic). There was a significant increase in the percentage of mast cells in both groups of asthmatics although the counts were no different from those previously reported for a number of other respiratory diseases. Asthmatics with airway hyperreactivity (PC20 less than 4 mg/ml) had significant increases in spontaneous histamine release. There was a significant elevation in the eosinophil count and the concentration of major basic protein (MBP) in BAL fluid in the symptomatic asthmatics. Furthermore, there was a significant correlation between the amounts of MBP recovered and the percentage of eosinophils in the BAL. These changes were even more marked when asthmatics with airway hyperreactivity were compared with subjects with normoreactive airways. In addition, there was a significant increase in the percentage of epithelial cells in the hyperreactive asthmatics. There was an inverse correlation between the PC20 and the percentage of mast cells (p less than 0.01), eosinophils (p less than 0.05), and epithelial cells (p less than 0.05) and amount of MBP in BAL (p less than 0.01). This study supports the hypothesis that bronchial hyperresponsiveness is secondary to epithelial cell damage mediated through eosinophil-derived granule products.