The reduced ability of inhaled compared with intravenous atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) to modify bronchial reactivity and tone may be due to degradation of the peptide by neutral endopeptidase (NEP) within the airways. To test this hypothesis, we have examined the effect of thiorphan, an NEP inhibitor, on the protection afforded by inhaled ANP against histamine-induced bronchoconstriction in 10 mildly asthmatic patients. Pretreatment with ANP alone attenuated the bronchoconstrictor response to histamine with a mean (SEM) maximum percent fall in FEV1 after histamine of 15.9 (2.9) (p < 0.05) compared with 24 (2.9) after placebo and 24 (4) after pretreatment with thiorphan alone. Prior inhalation of thiorphan greatly enhanced the ANP effect: the mean maximum percent fall after this combination was 5.1 (2.3) (p < 0.01, compared with ANP alone). Our results suggest that airway NEP is important in modulating the effect of inhaled ANP. It may be possible to exploit the guanylyl cyclase pathway, by which ANP acts, in the treatment of asthma by the administration of ANP analogues stable to neutral endopeptidase.