Lung epithelial permeability of asthmatic patients has been reported to be similar or lower than that of healthy subjects and to be correlated or not to bronchial hyperresponsiveness. To clarify these discrepancies, we evaluated 99mTc-DTPA pulmonary clearance in a group of carefully selected asthmatic patients with mild, stable asthma (n = 13; seven women; mean age +/- SD = 27.69 +/- 6.63 years), and compared them with a group of healthy, nonsmoking subjects (n = 8; six women; mean age +/- SD = 24.38 +/- 5.15 years). Selection criteria for asthmatics were as follows: baseline FEV1 > or = 80% of predicted values, no bronchial infections, and/or no asthma attacks during 4 weeks prior to study and peak expiratory flow rate variability lower than 20%, over a period of 3 weeks. Patients controlled symptoms with beta 2-adrenergic drugs only, regularly or on demand. Mean baseline FEV1 (+/-SD) as percent of predicted was 102.38 +/- 13.97 and 112.88 +/- 18.36, respectively (p < 0.05). In the asthmatic group, bronchial responsiveness to methacholine (PC20 M FEV1) ranged between 0.55 and 28.5 mg/mL. Mean value (+/-SD) of DTPA clearance from lungs to blood (evaluated on the first 10 min out of 30 min of the curves) in the asthmatic group was not different from that of control group (68.31 +/- 21.46 and 69.5 +/- 15.73). In the asthmatic patients, there was no correlation between PC20 M values and DTPA T1/2 min of the whole lung, nor between PC20 M and inner and outer lung clearance zones. Moreover, both in asthmatics and healthy subjects, DTPA clearance of outer (alveolar) zones was significantly faster than that of inner (bronchial) zones (57.69 +/- 19.94 vs 102.08 +/- 38.19, p < 0.001, and 59.75 +/- 12.49 vs 103.5 +/- 31.86, p < 0.003, respectively). Our data show that DTPA clearance in patients with stable asthma is similar to that found in healthy subjects; it is not correlated to degree of bronchial responsiveness and occurs more rapidly in the outer zones than in the inner zones, both in asthmatic patients and in healthy subjects. Thus, to date, DTPA clearance index is not a valid tool for identifying and/or monitoring asthmatic patients.