The cysteinyl leukotriene LTE4 has been shown to induce airway eosinophilia in asthmatics in vivo. This phenomenon has not yet been reported for LTD4. Hence, we examined the effect of inhaled LTD4 and a control bronchoconstrictor agent, methacholine, on cell differentials in hypertonic saline-induced whole sputum samples of 12 nonsmoking atopic asthmatic subjects (three women, nine men; 21 to 29 yr of age; FEV1, 74 to 120% pred; PC20FEV1 methacholine < 9.6 mg/ml). The study had a cross-over, placebo-controlled design consisting of 4 d separated by > or = 1 wk. On each randomized study day, the subjects inhaled five serial doses of either LTD4 (mean cumulative concentration: 95.7 microM) or methacholine (mean cumulative concentration: 542 mM) or five doses of their respective diluents (PBS/ethanol or PBS). The airway response was measured by FEV1, followed by sputum induction with 4.5% NaCl, 4 h postchallenge. Inflammatory cells (> or = 250) were counted twice on coded cytospins and expressed as percentages of nonsquamous cells. There was no significant difference in the maximal percent fall in FEV1 from baseline between LTD4 (mean +/- SEM, 49.5 +/- 4.4% fall) and methacholine (mean +/- SEM, 55.9 +/- 3.4% fall) (p = 0.11). LTD4 induced a significant increase in the percentage of sputum eosinophils as compared with its diluent (mean +/- SD, 26.6 +/- 21.3% and 10.2 +/- 8.8%, respectively; p = 0.025), whereas a similar trend for methacholine failed to reach significance (mean +/- SD, 19.1 +/- 22.9% and 7.8 +/- 5.8%, respectively; p = 0.11). There was no significant difference in the changes in the percentage of sputum eosinophils between LTD4 and methacholine (mean difference +/- SD, 7.5 +/- 12.5% eosinophils; p = 0.09). We conclude that LTD4 induces eosinophilia in sputum of asthmatic subjects 4 h after inhalation. Our data suggest that LTD4 recruits eosinophils into the airways of asthmatics in vivo, possibly by virtue of direct or indirect chemotactic properties, whereas an additional effect of vigourous airway narrowing per se cannot be excluded.