BACKGROUND: The effect of ageing on several pathologic features of allergic asthma (pulmonary inflammation, eosinophilia, mucus hypersecretion), and their relationship with airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) is not well characterized. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate lung inflammation, mucus metaplasia and AHR in relationship with age in murine models of allergic asthma comparing young and older mice. METHODS: Young (6 weeks) and older (6, 12, 18 months) BALB/c mice were sensitized and challenged with ovalbumin (OVA). AHR and bronchoalveolar fluid (BALF), total inflammatory cell count and differential were measured. To evaluate mucus metaplasia, quantitative PCR for the major airway mucin-associated gene, MUC-5AC, from lung tissue was measured, and lung tissue sections stained with periodic acid-Schiff (PAS) for goblet-cell enumeration. Lung tissue cytokine gene expression was determined by quantitative PCR, and systemic cytokine protein levels by ELISA from spleen-cell cultures. Antigen-specific serum IgE was determined by ELISA. RESULTS: AHR developed in both aged and young OVA-sensitized/challenged mice (OVA mice), and was more significantly increased in young OVA mice than in aged OVA mice. However, BALF eosinophil numbers were significantly higher, and lung histology showed greater inflammation in aged OVA mice than in young OVA mice. MUC-5AC expression and numbers of PAS+ staining bronchial epithelial cells were significantly increased in the aged OVA mice. All aged OVA mice had increased IL-5 and IFN-gamma mRNA expression in the lung and IL-5 and IFN-gamma protein levels from spleen cell cultures compared with young OVA mice. OVA-IgE was elevated to a greater extent in aged OVA mice. CONCLUSIONS: Although pulmonary inflammation and mucus metaplasia after antigen sensitization/challenge occurred to a greater degree in older mice, the increase in AHR was significantly less compared with younger OVA mice. Antigen treatment produced a unique cytokine profile in older mice (elevated IFN-gamma and IL-5) compared with young mice (elevated IL-4 and IL-13). Thus, the airway response to inflammation is lessened in ageing animals, and may represent age-associated events leading to different phenotypes in response to antigen provocation.