Bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR) is a characteristic feature of asthma which is often associated with airways inflammation. However, some patients with allergic rhinitis and no clinical evidence of asthma also exhibit BHR. This study therefore investigated whether inflammatory cell infiltrate is present in the induced sputum of nonasthmatic subjects with allergic rhinitis during the pollen season and examined its relationship with airway hyperresponsiveness to inhaled methacholine and adenosine 5'-monophosphate (AMP). Twenty subjects (12 allergic rhinitis, eight nonallergic controls) underwent methacholine and AMP challenge and sputum induction with hypertonic saline on separate days. Cell differentials were calculated from whole sputum samples. A significantly greater number of eosinophils was found in the sputum of nonasthmatic subjects with allergic rhinitis compared to that of nonallergic controls, their median (range) percentages being 17.5 (4-47) and 1.5 (0-5) (p<0.001) respectively. Although sputum eosinophilia failed to be significantly associated with methacholine responsiveness (r(s)=-0.50; p=0.095), the provocative concentration of AMP causing a 20% fall in forced expiratory volume in one second correlated strongly and significantly with the absolute number of eosinophils (r(s)= -0.73; p=0.007). Eosinophil cationic protein levels in the sputum of rhinitic subjects were significantly elevated compared to controls and correlated with eosinophil number (r(s)=0.67; p=0.017). These findings support the view that bronchial eosinophilia alone is insufficient to cause asthmatic symptoms. Diverse agonists for assessing bronchial hyperresponsiveness are selectively associated with airway inflammation in allergic rhinitis.