1. Neostigmine and BW284C51 induced concentration-dependent contractions in human isolated bronchial preparations whereas tetraisopropylpyrophosphoramide (iso-OMPA) was inactive on airway resting tone. 2. Neostigmine (0.1 microM) or iso-OMPA (100 microM) increased acetylcholine sensitivity in human isolated bronchial preparations but did not alter methacholine or carbachol concentration-effect curves. 3. In the presence of iso-OMPA (10 microM) the bronchial rings were more sensitive to neostigmine. The pD2 values were, control: 6.05 +/- 0.15 and treated: 6.91 +/- 0.14. 4. Neostigmine or iso-OMPA retarded the degradation of acetylcholine when this substrate was exogenously added to human isolated airways. A marked reduction of acetylcholine degradation was observed in the presence of both inhibitors. Exogenous butyrylcholine degradation was prevented by iso-OMPA (10 microM) but not by neostigmine (0.1 microM). 5. These results suggest the presence of butyrylcholinesterase activity in human bronchial muscle and this enzyme may co-regulate the degradation of acetylcholine in this tissue.