To investigate whether leukotrienes (LTs) are released into the bronchial fluid of patients with symptomatic asthma, bronchial lavage was carried out in 17 patients with mild to severe asthma and nine healthy subjects without asthma. LTE4 was detected in 15 of the 17 patients with asthma with reverse-phase high-performance liquid chromatography. The identify of LTE4 was confirmed by ultraviolet spectrometry and by positive ion fast atom-bombardment mass spectrometry. LTD4 was found in two patients and 20-OH-LTB4 in 12 patients. No LTs were detectable in the lavage fluid from any of the healthy subjects without asthma. The finding of LTs in bronchial lavage fluid from the patients with asthma despite bronchodilator and/or corticosteroid therapy suggests that these compounds may be important in asthma. However, the presence of significant quantities of LTE4 in patients with mild asthma requiring only intermittent bronchodilator therapy for control and the lack of correlation between LTE4 and pulmonary function also suggests that other factors may be important in determining the net end organ response. The present study points to the importance of studying the whole spectrum of mediators that are released. Analysis of bronchial lavage fluid may be useful in determining the relative role of these mediators and the effect of pharmacologic intervention.