The development of new inhalation devices for asthma drugs raises the issue of the relationship between pulmonary deposition and therapeutic effect of inhaled drugs in patients with obstructive lung diseases. We thus conducted a randomized, double-blind and double-dummy, four-period crossover study in 13 patients with moderate asthma (mean age 36 yr; FEV1 59% of predicted), who inhaled 0.25 and 0.5 mg terbutaline sulphate on separate occasions either via a pressurized metered dose inhaler (pMDI) or Turbuhaler (TBH). Pulmonary deposition was 8.1 +/- 2.7% and 8.3 +/- 2.3%, respectively, of the nominal dose for pMDI and 19.0 +/- 7.3%, and 22.0 +/- 8.1% for TBH. The FEV1 increase after 0.25 mg terbutaline sulphate via TBH was significantly greater than after 0.25 mg via pMDI. No significant differences in FEV1 increase were observed between 0.25 mg via TBH, 0.5 mg via pMDI, or 0.5 mg via TBH. Other lung function variables showed similar dose- and device-related changes. We concluded that: (1) the dose of terbutaline sulphate deposited in the lungs is dependent on which inhalation system is used; (2) TBH delivers about twice the amount of drug to the lungs as the pMDI; and (3) the observed difference in deposition is reflected in the bronchodilating effect.