Bronchial responsiveness to methacholine was measured in a birth cohort of New Zealand children at ages 9, 11, 13, and 15. Overall bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR) decreased with age. While the response at age 9 was significantly related to responsiveness, symptom severity, and low lung function at age 15, these relationships were much closer when bronchial response levels after age 9 were taken into account. Also, among children who were unresponsive to methacholine at age 15, those with previous BHR had more frequent wheeze and lower lung function than those whose previous tests were all unresponsive. Both the overall tendency to BHR and the tendency to retain BHR were closely related to high serum IgE levels (determined at age 11) and to positive allergy skin tests (determined at age 13). These evidences of allergy, closely related to the severity and course of methacholine response, appeared to be important determinants of the frequency of wheeze and the degree of impairment of lung function at the end of follow-up. In view of the variability in BHR, a single estimate of bronchial responsiveness taken at an arbitrary point in time may not be an accurate index of the overall tendency to BHR.