To determine whether late asthmatic reactions and the associated increase in airway responsiveness induced by toluene diisocyanate (TDI) are linked to airway inflammation, we investigated whether they are inhibited by prednisone. Ten "sensitized" subjects were studied in 2 sets of experiments. In the first set, each subject was given no treatment and was studied before and for 8 h after exposure to TDI. In the second set, 2 to 4 wk later, each subject was studied before treatment and then during treatment with prednisone (50 mg once a day for 3 days, orally), both before and after exposure to TDI. To assess late asthmatic reactions to TDI, we measured FEV1 immediately before and after exposure, then hourly for 8 h. To assess changes in airway responsiveness, we measured the provocation dose (mg) of methacholine causing a 20% decrease in FEV1 (PD20FEV1) before and 8 h after exposure to TDI. When the subjects received no prednisone treatment, TDI caused late asthmatic reactions and increased airway responsiveness. By contrast, when the subjects received prednisone, TDI caused no late asthmatic reaction or increased airway responsiveness. Prednisone did not change baseline airway caliber or airway responsiveness. These results suggest that late asthmatic reactions and the associated increase in airway responsiveness induced by TDI in "sensitized" subjects may depend on the development of a steroid-responsive acute inflammatory reaction within the airways.