Human rhinoviruses (HRV) cause the majority of common colds and are etiologically linked with changes in lower airways physiology and asthma exacerbations. We hypothesized that changes in bronchial mucosal inflammatory cell populations may be responsible for HRV-induced changes in airway reactivity. We examined bronchial mucosal biopsies during experimental infections with HRV serotype 16 and measured changes in histamine reactivity. Seventeen adult volunteers (six atopic asthmatics) had baseline measurements of histamine reactivity and fiberoptic bronchoscopic biopsies, followed 2 wk later by viral inoculation. Further bronchial biopsies were taken on Day 4 of the infection and 6 to 10 wk later. Mast cells, eosinophils, lymphocytes, and neutrophils were quantified by immunohistochemical techniques. Infection was documented by viral culture, seroconversion, and symptoms. An increase in histamine responsiveness during the cold (p = 0.048) was accompanied by increases in submucosal lymphocytes (p = 0.050). There was a subsequent decrease in submucosal and epithelial lymphocytes in convalescence (p = 0.028; p = 0.030). There was an increase in epithelial eosinophils with the cold (p = 0.042), and in asthmatics this appeared to persist into convalescence. A peripheral blood lymphopenia correlated with increased responsiveness (r = 0.062, p = 0.014). Rhinoviral colds are associated with a bronchial mucosal lymphocytic and eosinophilic infiltrate that may be related to changes in airway responsiveness and asthma exacerbations.