Circulating forms of adhesion molecules (intercellular-adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1), vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM-1) and E-selectin ) are related to the turnover of these molecules on the cell surface. In contrast to the other molecules, the levels of E-selectin probably exclusively reflect the activity of endothelial cells. The aim of this study was to compare levels of circulating adhesion molecules in patients with allergic (AA) and non-allergic asthma (NA) and to relate the levels of soluble adhesion molecules to methacholine responsiveness and lung function. The study comprised 19 patients with AA, 15 patients with NA and 17 healthy subjects. Soluble adhesion molecules, spirometry, methacholine responsiveness and peak flow variability was measured. The group of patients with AA had higher levels of sE-selectin than the reference group (P=0.046). Serum levels of sE-selectin correlated significantly with bronchial responsiveness (r=0.76) and peak flow variability (r=0.75) (P<0.01) in the NA but not in the AA group. All adhesion molecules in AA (P<0.05-<0.001), but only sE-selectin in NA (P<0.05), were correlated to airway conductance. sVCAM-1 was reduced by inhaled steroids (P<0.01). Our results indicate that endothelial cells are activated in asthma and that this activity has a bearing on airflow variability and bronchial responsiveness in NA.