Unstimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from corticosteroid-resistant (CR) but not corticosteroid-sensitive (CS) asthmatics demonstrate increased activating peptide-1 (AP-1)- and decreased glucocorticoid receptor (GR)-DNA binding. We test whether these abnormalities are associated with excessive generation of c-fos, the inducible component of AP-1. The c-fos transcription rate, mRNA and protein levels, and GR-DNA binding were quantitated in PBMCs, T cells, and monocytes from CS, CR, and nonasthmatic subjects. There was a 1.7-, 4.2-, and 2.3-fold greater increase in the baseline c-fos transcription rate, mRNA expression, and protein levels, respectively, in PBMCs derived from CR compared with CS patients. At optimal stimulation with PMA, there was a 5.7-, 3.4-, and 2-fold greater increase in the c-fos transcription rate, mRNA accumulation, and protein levels, respectively, in CR compared with CS PBMCs. These abnormalities were detected in both the T cell and monocyte subpopulations. PMA stimulation converted PBMCs from a CS to a CR phenotype and was associated with direct interaction between c-Fos and the GR. Pretreatment of PBMCs from CR patients with c-fos antisense oligonucleotides enhanced GR-DNA binding activity in CR PBMCs stimulated with dexamethasone. We suggest that increased c-fos synthesis provides a major mechanism for the increased AP-1- and decreased GR- DNA binding seen in CR asthma.