Kininogenase activity was detected by cleavage of radiolabeled substrate (125I-high molecular weight kininogen [HMWK]) in 22 of 24 bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid samples from 17 asthmatics who either responded to aerosolized allergen challenge or had symptoms of active asthma. In contrast, six of seven normal controls lacked enzymatic activity. Levels of free immunoreactive kinin found in BAL fluid correlated with the presence of kininogenase activity (P = 0.002). The cleavage pattern of 125I-HMWK by the BAL fluid kininogenase (a dominant 65,000-mol wt fragment), and synthetic inhibitor profile (phe-phe-arg-CH2Cl and phenylmethylsulfonyl fluoride) were compatible with a tissue kallikrein. Peak kininogenase activity eluted at an apparent molecular weight of 20,000-34,000 by HPLC gel filtration. Its antigenic identity was established by immunoblotting with anti-human urinary kallikrein antibody and its activity was inhibited by this antibody. Lysylbradykinin was generated during incubation of fractionated BAL fluid and purified HMWK, the characteristic cleavage product of the tissue kallikreins. We conclude that elevated amounts of tissue kallikrein and kinin are present in the bronchoalveolar spaces of asthmatic subjects. Kinin generation may contribute to the asthmatic response directly through edema formation and smooth muscle contraction and by augmenting release and/or production of preformed (histamine) and secondary mediators such as leukotrienes and platelet-activating factor.