BACKGROUND—Existing murine models of asthma lack many of the inflammatory and epithelial changes that are typical of the human disease. Moreover, these models are frequently complicated by allergic alveolitis. METHODS—High IgE responder BALB/c mice were systemically sensitised to ovalbumin and chronically challenged with low particle mass concentrations of aerosolised ovalbumin. Titres of anti-ovalbumin IgE in serum were measured at two weekly intervals by enzyme immunoassay, accumulation of inflammatory cells and histopathological abnormalities of the epithelium were quantified morphometrically in the trachea and the lungs, and airway reactivity was assessed by measuring bronchoconstriction following intravenous administration of methacholine. RESULTS—Mice sensitised by two intraperitoneal injections of ovalbumin developed high titres of IgE antibodies to ovalbumin. Following exposure to low concentrations of aerosolised antigen for up to eight weeks these animals developed a progressive inflammatory response in the airways, characterised by the presence of intraepithelial eosinophils and by infiltration of the lamina propria with lymphoid/mononuclear cells, without associated alveolitis. Goblet cell hyperplasia/metaplasia was induced in the intrapulmonary airways, while epithelial thickening and subepithelial fibrosis were evident following chronic exposure. In parallel, the mice developed increased sensitivity to induction of bronchospasm, as well as increased maximal reactivity. Non-immunised mice exposed to aerosolised ovalbumin had low or absent anti-ovalbumin IgE and did not exhibit inflammatory or epithelial changes, but developed airway hyperreactivity. CONCLUSIONS—This experimental model replicates many of the features of human asthma and should facilitate studies of pathogenetic mechanisms and of potential therapeutic agents.