Bronchoalveolar lavage and BB were performed in 13 asthmatic and six healthy subjects to characterize cellular markers of inflammation in BAL and BB; to compare cellular profile of BAL with cell infiltration in BB; to examine the relationship between bronchial responsiveness and markers of inflammation in BAL and BB. Eosinophils and mast cells were increased in BAL in asthmatic subjects; eosinophils were positively correlated with neutrophils and mast cells. Epithelial shedding was present in nine asthmatic and five control subjects. Intraepithelial cells and cells in submucosa were increased in asthmatic subjects. Eosinophils and intraepithelial mast cells were higher. Thickened basement membrane was associated with more marked cell infiltration in submucosa. Ciliated cells in BAL relate to intraepithelial cells; cells in BAL broadly reflect cell infiltration of submucosa. In the asthmatic group, the degree of bronchial responsiveness correlated with ciliated cells in BAL and with intra-epithelial cells in BB. Marked airway inflammation is associated with stable asthma; inflammatory changes within bronchial epithelium may be linked to the development of bronchial hyperresponsiveness.