The purpose of this study was to describe for asthmatic subjects the distribution of individual bronchial sensitivity to sulfur dioxide (SO2). Subjects were nonsmoking male asthmatics (n = 27) who were sensitive to inhaled methacholine. None of the subjects used corticosteroids or cromolyn sodium. Oral medications were withheld for 48 hr, inhaled medications for 12 hr prior to all testing. Each subject participated in four separate randomly ordered 10 min exposures to 0.00, 0.25, 0.50 and 1.00 ppm SO2 at 26 degrees C, 70% relative humidity. During exposures, subjects breathed naturally and performed moderate exercise (VE, normalized for body surface area = 21 1/m2 X min). Before and 3 min after exposure, specific airway resistance (SRaw) was measured by body plethysmography. Those subjects whose SRaw was not doubled by exposure to 1.00 ppm were also exposed to 2.00 ppm SO2. Dose response curves (relative change in SRaw, corrected for change in clean air vs SO2 concentration) were constructed for each subject. Bronchial sensitivity to SO2 [PC(SO2)], defined as the concentration of SO2 which provoked an increase in SRaw 100% greater than the response to clean air, was determined. Substantial variability in sensitivity was observed: for 23 subjects, PC(SO2) ranged between 0.28 and 1.90 ppm, while for the remaining 4 subjects, it was greater than 2.00 ppm SO2. The median PC(SO2) was 0.75 ppm SO2, and 6 subjects had a PC(SO2) of less than 0.50 ppm. PC(SO2) was not related (r = 0.31) to airway sensitivity to methacholine.