1. We have investigated the role of cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterase IV (PDE IV) in the relaxation of human bronchus and guinea-pig trachea in vitro and in guinea-pigs in vivo. 2. Functional studies showed that the selective PDE IV inhibitors, rolipram and denbufylline, relaxed human and guinea-pig preparations in vitro. 3. Two clinically used xanthine non-selective PDE inhibitors, theophylline and pentoxifylline, were also effective in these preparations, but were much less potent than the selective agents used. 4. The rank order of potency for the four PDE inhibitors in both species was similar. 5. Biochemical studies indicated that PDE IV was the major PDE isoform present in the human bronchial tissue. PDEs I, II and V were also identified. 6. Theophylline and pentoxifylline were, as expected, non-selective inhibitors of the human enzymes, but there was a good correlation between PDE IV inhibitory and bronchorelaxation potencies, suggesting that PDE IV inhibition is important for the clinical bronchodilator activities of the two xanthine compounds. 7. We have confirmed the ability of selective PDE IV inhibitors to cause bronchodilatation in guinea-pigs in vivo. 8. We conclude that our study has provided further evidence that selective PDE IV inhibitors could act as bronchodilators in the clinic.