In a retrospective analysis (July 1979 to March 1984) of 120 allogeneic adult bone marrow transplant recipients, we identified seven patients with small-airway disease for whom no microbiologic agent was detected. Six had pulmonary function studies demonstrating air flow obstruction. Five of the seven patients had an open-lung biopsy showing pathologic changes within small airways; these varied from early bronchiolar wall damage to bronchiolitis obliterans. The inflammatory cell infiltrate was peribronchiolar, and consisted of polymorphonuclear leukocytes and lymphocytes in varying proportions. Three of the seven patients recovered following increased immunosuppressive therapy; the other four died. Because all seven patients had acute and chronic graft-versus-host disease, in the absence of any identifiable pathogen, we postulate that small-airway damage represents one of the facets of graft-versus host-disease. An additional analysis of 26 patients with respiratory symptomatology and available histologic material supports the hypothesis that small-airway disease in bone marrow transplant patients represents a risk factor for the subsequent development of respiratory opportunistic infections.