Airway inflammation is thought to be an important determinant of bronchoconstriction and bronchial hyperreactivity. We have recently demonstrated that bronchoconstriction induced by an aqueous extract of cotton bracts (CBE) is associated with bronchoalveolar complement activation, release of polymorphonuclear neutrophil (PMN) chemoattractants by pulmonary cells, and increased numbers of bronchoalveolar lavage PMN's. In the present study we performed bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) on subjects after CBE or control (saline) challenge and examined whether BAL cells were activated in vitro to produce other inflammatory agonists. After CBE administration, cultured BAL cells released increased amounts of the reactive O2 species, superoxide (O2-·), and the cyclooxygenase products prostaglandin E2 and thromboxane B2. Although none of these in vitro parameters of BAL cell activation appeared to correlate with the degree of bronchoconstriction induced by CBE, BAL fluid levels of thromboxane B2 were also increased after CBE administration and in vivo amounts of this eicasanoid did correlate with the degree of bronchoconstriction induced by CBE (r = 0.50, P < 0.04). Finally, although the cell culture supernatants were highly chemotactic for PMN's, concentrations of leukotriene B4 were not increased, suggesting other chemotaxins were released by BAL cells in this setting. We conclude that CBE administration activates bronchoalveolar cells to release reactive O2 species and cyclooxygenase products that may be important in the bronchoconstricting response to CBE.