Airway responsiveness to histamine and leukotriene E4 (LTE4) has been compared between five subjects with aspirin-induced asthma (AIA) and 15 asthmatic subjects without aspirin sensitivity (non-AIA). In the AIA group, the geometric mean doses of histamine and LTE4 causing a 35% fall in specific airway conductance (PD35) were 0.31 mumol and 0.17 nmol, respectively, and LTE4 was 1,870 times more potent than histamine. In the non-AIA group, the histamine and LTE4 PD35 doses were 0.40 mumol (non-AIA versus AIA, NS) and 2.8 nmol (non-AIA versus AIA, p = 0.002), respectively, and LTE4 was 145 times more potent than histamine in eliciting bronchoconstriction (non-AIA versus AIA, p = 0.001). After desensitization to aspirin the geometric mean histamine and LTE4 PD 35 in the AIA group changed to 0.19 mumol (NS) and 3.3 nmol (p = 0.007), respectively, and there was an average 33-fold reduction in the responsiveness of the airways to LTE4 relative to histamine (p less than 0.001). In five non-AIA subjects. Ingestion of 600 mg of aspirin daily did not lead to any significant change in airway responsiveness to histamine or to LTE4. These results demonstrate a selective and marked increase in airway responsiveness to LTE4 in subjects with AIA. The efficacy of desensitization may relate in part to a selective down-regulation of LTE4 receptors within the airways.