Airway resistance was measured by the interrupter technique in 54 children [aged 63.8 months (range: 9.1-131.6 months)], with perinatal human immunodeficiency virus-type 1 (HIV-1) infection and in a control group of 315 gender, height, and race-matched healthy children. In addition, 14 HIV-infected children, aged 75-131 months, had spirometry performed. Resistance was significantly higher in infected children than in controls (0.84 +/- 0.3 vs 0.64 +/- 0.08 kPa x l(-1) x s; t = 9.991; P < 0.0001). Resistance decreased with age in controls (r = -0.95; P < 0.001), but not in infected children (r= -0.22; P = 0.105). Resistance did not correlate with mothers' intravenous drug addiction, perinatal data, T-cell subset numbers, treatment, clinical course, or presence of respiratory complications. Resistance was higher (t = 3.103; P < 0.003) in p24 antigen-positive than in negative children. Thirty-nine children underwent a second evaluation 12.3 months (range 11.1-14 months) after the first. Resistance was higher (t = 3.960; P < 0.0001) at the second evaluation compared to the first. Eight of 14 children had abnormal spirometric measurements. We conclude that perinatal HIV-1 infection is associated with increased airway resistance and often abnormal spirometry. The degree of abnormalities in resistance depends on the duration of the infection rather than on HIV-1-related respiratory complications.