Asthma presents a variable clinical response to corticosteroids (CS). Because CS more likely act on inflammation than on tissue remodeling, the presence of bronchial structural changes in certain asthmatics may explain their limited clinical response to CS. Matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) and its inhibitor, tissue inhibitor of metalloproteinase-1 (TIMP-1), are, respectively, involved in tissue inflammatory processes and fibrogenic processes. Previous reports have suggested that MMP-9:TIMP-1 ratio may reflect the balance between these two processes in various diseases. This study evaluated the relation of this ratio and the response to CS in severe asthma. Twenty asthmatics with low baseline FEV1 (59 +/- 4% predicted) and >/= 30 % increase with beta2-agonist were recruited. Serum MMP-9 and TIMP-1 levels were measured and correlated with response to an oral CS trial (methylprenisolone 40 mg/d for 14 d). With oral CS, FEV1 changes (DeltaFEV1) ranged from -15 to +43%. The DeltaFEV1 closely correlated with the MMP-9:TIMP-1 ratios (rho = 0. 79, p = 0.0006). In conclusion, serum MMP-9: TIMP-1 ratio could predict the response of oral CS therapy in asthma. The low MMP-9:TIMP-1 ratio observed in subjects with little or no FEV1 improvement with CS supports the hypothesis that, in these asthmatic subjects, bronchial fibrogenesis predominates over inflammation.