Both epidemiologic and experimental evidence suggest that a high dietary sodium intake may increase airway responsiveness, but no adequate explanation exists of how changes in sodium intake might lead to increased responsiveness. This investigation was carried out to study dietary sodium intake and airway response to methacholine in relation to cellular sodium transport in 52 young men. Airway response to methacholine was associated with urinary sodium excretion when subjects were on normal sodium intake. Airway responsiveness in patients with mild asthma correlated with the furosemide-insensitive influx of sodium into peripheral leukocytes stimulated by autologous serum, but there was no relation between this influx and 24-h urinary sodium excretion. In a separate investigation, serum from subjects with increased airway responsiveness caused an increase in the sodium influx and sodium content of leukocytes from nonatopic subjects. The magnitude of the furosemide-insensitive, serum stimulated influx was related to the degree of airway responsiveness of the serum donor, as was the increase in intracellular sodium content. Neither was related to the 24-h urinary sodium excretion of the donor. Patients with airway hyperresponsiveness have an increased sodium influx into cells stimulated by a serum-borne factor. This is independent of the effect of added dietary sodium on airway responsiveness.