Calculation of diurnal peak expiratory flow (PEF) variability using values before and after bronchodilator is no longer possible for many asthmatic patients because they now use beta-agonists "as needed" for symptoms rather than regularly. This study assesses the usefulness of a number of alternative PEF indices as markers of airway liability in subjects with stable, although not necessarily well-controlled, asthma. Forty-six adult subjects completed a questionnaire about symptoms and treatment in the previous 3 mo. Spirometric function and airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) were assessed; AHR was expressed as dose response ratio (DRR) (maximal percent fall in FEV1 divided by final dose of histamine). Subjects recorded PEF morning and evening, before and after bronchodilator (if used) for 2 wk. Nine different PEF indices were calculated. Diurnal variability (amplitude percent maximum) without bronchodilator was significantly less than diurnal variability with bronchodilator. Normal indices of PEF lability were found in 42% of subjects with reduced maximal midexpiratory flow (MMEF). Most of the PEF indices correlated strongly with DRR, and less strongly with symptom score and airway obstruction. Minimum morning prebronchodilator PEF over a week (expressed as percent recent best or percent predicted) is recommended as the best PEF index of airway lability in patients with stable asthma because it correlates strongly with AHR, patients are more likely to comply with a once-daily reading, the calculation is simple, and regular use of a beta-agonist is not required.