Theophylline, in addition to its bronchodilator effect, may attenuate inflammation in asthma. We did a double-blind placebo-controlled study of the effect of oral theophylline on the inflammatory response of the bronchial mucosa to inhalation of allergen in 19 atopic asthmatic subjects. Bronchoscopy and bronchial biopsy were done 24 hours after allergen inhalation before and after six weeks of treatment with oral slow-release theophylline, 200 mg 12 hourly. The mean serum concentration was 36.6 mumol/L, which is below the currently-accepted therapeutic range. After treatment with theophylline there was a significant reduction in the number of EG2-positive activated eosinophils (5.9 before and 2.1 after treatment, Wilcoxon signed rank p < 0.05) and total eosinophils (16.7 before and 7.6 after treatment, p < 0.05) beneath the epithelial basement membrane. We conclude that low-dose oral theophylline attenuates airway inflammatory response to allergen inhalation in atopic asthma.