We examined the effects of lung volume on the bronchoconstriction induced by inhaled aerosolized methacholine (MCh) in seven normal subjects. We constructed dose-response curves to MCh, using measurements of inspiratory pulmonary resistance (RL) during tidal breathing at functional residual capacity (FRC) and after a change in end-expiratory lung volume (EEV) to either FRC -0.5 liter (n = 5) or FRC +0.5 liter (n = 2). Aerosols of MCh were generated using a nebulizer with an output of 0.12 ml/min and administered for 2 min in progressively doubling concentrations from 1 to 256 mg/ml. After MCh, RL rose from a base-line value of 2.1 +/- 0.3 cmH2O. 1-1 X s (mean +/- SE; n = 7) to a maximum of 13.9 +/- 1.8. In five of the seven subjects a plateau response to MCh was obtained at FRC. There was no correlation between the concentration of MCh required to double RL and the maximum value of RL. The dose-response relationship to MCh was markedly altered by changing lung volume. The bronchoconstrictor response was enhanced at FRC - 0.5 liter; RL reached a maximum of 39.0 +/- 4.0 cmH2O X 1-1 X s. Conversely, at FRC + 0.5 liter the maximum value of RL was reduced in both subjects from 8.2 and 16.6 to 6.0 and 7.7 cmH2O X 1-1 X s, respectively. We conclude that lung volume is a major determinant of the bronchoconstrictor response to MCh in normal subjects. We suggest that changes in lung volume act to alter the forces of interdependence between airways and parenchyma that oppose airway smooth muscle contraction.