The airway responsiveness of a group of 25 patients scheduled for lung resection was studied. 10 of 25 patients had a greater than or equal to 20% fall in FEV1 in response to inhaled methacholine (responders), with PD20 FEV1 values ranging from 0.6 to 7.3 mumol. Methacholine did not induce a 20% fall in FEV1 in 15 patients (non-responders). The sensitivity to carbachol and histamine of the bronchial smooth muscle resected from these patients was similar in tissue from responders and non-responders. There was no correlation between in vivo responsiveness to methacholine and in vitro sensitivity to carbachol or histamine. The volume of smooth muscle in some of these airway preparations was quantitated. There was a significant correlation between the maximum tension change in response to histamine and the volume of smooth muscle in each airway. There was no similar correlation for carbachol. The in vivo responsiveness to methacholine and in vitro sensitivity to histamine or carbachol was not related to the degree of inflammation in the airways studied. It is concluded that in vivo responsiveness cannot be explained in terms of smooth muscle sensitivity and that there may be differences between histamine and carbachol in the mechanism of contraction of airway smooth muscle.