Airway responsiveness to histamine aerosol and lung prostaglandin generation were investigated in normal, partially vitamin C deficient and scorbutic guinea pigs. The ascorbic acid content of the lung expressed as microgram/100 mg wet weight lung parenchyma decreased from 22.1 +/- 1.8 (mean +/- SE) in the control group to 9.0 +/- 1.4 and 1.8 +/- 0.4 in tissues from partially ascorbic acid deficient and scorbutic animals, respectively. Guinea pigs on low and ascorbic acid deficient diets developed significant airway hyperresponsiveness to histamine aerosol after 3 and 4 weeks. Indomethacin (30 mg/Kg, i.p.) further increased the airway hyperresponsiveness in scorbutic animals but was without effect in control animals. Prostaglandin generation from different parts of the lung was significantly changed by the diets. However, airway hyperresponsiveness was not directly attributable to altered prostanoid generation. Scorbutic conditions did not alter the electrophysiological characteristics of airway smooth muscle namely, resting membrane potential and electrogenic sodium pump activity. In summary, ascorbic acid deficiency causes airway hyperresponsiveness to histamine in guinea pigs. This alteration seems not to be related to an altered prostaglandin generation by the lung or to the electrophysiological properties of airway smooth muscle.