The mechanism by which late asthmatic reactions are induced by toluene diisocyanate (TDI), a low molecular weight chemical that causes occupational asthma in exposed subjects, is unknown. We investigated whether early and late asthmatic reactions induced by TDI are associated with changes in airway responsiveness to methacholine and airway inflammation as determined by bronchoalveolar lavage. We measured FEV1 before and at regular intervals after exposure to TDI, and performed dose-response curves to methacholine and bronchoalveolar lavage at 8 h after TDI in a group of 6 subjects with late asthmatic reactions and in 6 subjects with only early asthmatic reactions. The same procedure was followed 2 h after TDI in a group of 6 subjects with previously documented late asthmatic reactions and in a group of 6 subjects without any previously documented asthmatic reaction after TDI. In subjects with late asthmatic reactions, neutrophils were increased at both 2 and 8 h, and eosinophils and airway responsiveness were increased only at 8 h. By contrast, neutrophils, eosinophils and airway responsiveness were not increased at 8 h after TDI in subjects with an early asthmatic reaction or at 2 h after TDI in normal control subjects. These results suggest that late asthmatic reactions to TDI, and the associated increase in airway responsiveness, may be caused by airway inflammation.