Pulmonary function tests and bronchial reactivity to methacholine (MCH) were measured in 34 randomly selected prematures (21 males, 13 females; mean age 11.6 years; mean gestational age 34.9 weeks; mean birth weight 1980 g) and in 34 siblings (22 males, 12 females; mean age 12.5 years, mean gestational age 39.5 weeks; mean birth weight 3030 g). None had suffered neonatal respiratory distress syndrome or had been artificially ventilated. Prematurely born children had a residual volume (RV) and residual volume/total lung capacity (RV/TLC) significantly (P < 0.01) increased compared to controls, although the mean values of both groups were still within the upper limits of normal. Furthermore, an increase of closing volume/vital capacity and closing capacity/total lung capacity (CC/TLC) was observed in most patients with increased RV and RV/TLC. No significant difference was observed for bronchial responsiveness to MCH between prematurely born and control children (11.8% and 5.9% of hyperreactive subjects, respectively). Maternal smoking during pregnancy was prevalent in prematures with impaired respiratory functions. In conclusion clinically normal children of smoking mothers who have survived prematurity but present some respiratory function impairment compared to their born-at-term siblings, should be fully informed and protected from risk factors for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in adult life.