In sensitized subjects, exposure to the mite allergen appears to be only one of several factors leading to asthma. We hypothesized that in association with allergen exposure, endotoxin, a proinflammatory agent present in house dust (HD), influences the severity of asthma. Using a cross-sectional study design, we investigated a group of 69 consecutive dust mite (HDM)-sensitized subjects defined as having rhinitis (n = 20) or asthma (n = 49); the latter were evaluated functionally and clinically by three different scores and by their need for daily medication. Concentrations of Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus p I allergen (Der p I) (by two-site monoclonal antibody enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay [ELISA]), guanine (by high-pressure liquid chromatography [HPLC]), and endotoxin (by modified Limulus. amebocyte lysate assay) were measured in HD collected in duplicate from the mattresses and floors in each subject's home. The concentrations of Der p I and of guanine in HD collected from mattresses were significantly higher in asthmatic subjects than in those with rhinitis (p < 0.05 and < 0.04, respectively). In subjects (n = 37) exposed to a high level of HDM allergen (i.e., Der p I > or = 10 micrograms/g HD and/or guanine > or = 0.10 mg/100 mg HD), the severity of asthma was unrelated to mite allergen concentration in HD. On the contrary, the severity of asthma was related to concomitant exposure to endotoxin in HD, since the concentration of HD endotoxin was significantly and inversely correlated with FEV1 (p < 0.05), FEV1/FVC (p < 0.02), daily need for oral (p < 0.01) and inhaled (p < 0.01) corticosteroids, daily need for beta 2 agonists (p < 0.001) and xanthines (p < 0.01), and clinical scores such as the modified Aas score (p < 0.01). In HDM-sensitized subjects exposed to a high level of allergen, the concentration of endotoxin measured in HD is an important determinant of asthma severity.