To investigate whether markers of lymphocyte activation are useful markers of disease activity in childhood asthma, we studied serum levels of soluble CD25 (receptor for IL-2) and soluble CD23 (low-affinity receptor for IgE) in 178 children (aged 2-18 years) suffering from mild to moderate asthma (mean asthma severity score: 2, range: 1-4), and in 175 healthy age-matched controls. Levels of sCD23 and sCD25 were inversely related to age. sCD23 was lower in patients with asthma (means per age group: 4.93-2.29 micrograms/l; controls: 6.92-4.11 micrograms/l, P < 0.05), while sCD25 tended to be higher (1601-597 kU/ml, controls: 1350-661 kU/ml, P = NS). sCD25 correlated significantly with asthma severity score (r = 0.41; P < 0.01) and MEF25 (maximum expiratory flow at 25% of vital capacity, r = -0.43; P < 0.05) in children < 10 years, while sCD23 correlated with asthma severity (r = 0.28; P < 0.05) in children > 10 years. On follow-up, levels of sCD25 normalized with clinical improvement. In children with nonatopic asthma, levels of sCD25 were significantly higher than in atopic patients. Our observations provide further evidence of the role of T-cell activation in asthma. Monitoring of lymphocyte activation markers, particularly levels of sCD25, may be useful in the follow-up of asthmatic children.