Nocturnal asthma represents a unique subset of patients with asthma who experience worsening symptoms and airflow obstruction at night. The basis for this phenotype of asthma is not known, but beta 2-adrenergic receptors (beta 2AR) are known to downregulate overnight in nocturnal asthmatics but not normal subjects or nonnocturnal asthmatics. We have recently delineated three polymorphic loci within the coding block of the beta 2AR which alter amino acids at positions 16, 27, and 164 and impart specific biochemical and pharmacologic phenotypes to the receptor. In site-directed mutagenesis/recombinant expression studies we have found that glycine at position 16 (Gly16) imparts an accelerated agonist-promoted downregulation of beta 2AR as compared to arginine at this position (Arg16). We hypothesized that Gly16 might be overrepresented in nocturnal asthmatics and thus determined the beta 2AR genotypes of two well-defined asthmatic cohorts: 23 nocturnal asthmatics with 34 +/- 2% nocturnal depression of peak expiratory flow rates, and 22 nonnocturnal asthmatics with virtually no such depression (2.3 +/- 0.8%). The frequency of the Gly16 allele was 80.4% in the nocturnal group as compared to 52.2% in the nonnocturnal group, while the Arg16 allele was present in 19.6 and 47.8%, respectively. This overrepresentation of the Gly16 allele in nocturnal asthma was significant at P = 0.007 with an odds ratio of having nocturnal asthma and the Gly16 polymorphism being 3.8. Comparisons of the two cohorts as to homozygosity for Gly16, homozygosity for Arg16, or heterozygosity were also consistent with segregation of Gly16 with nocturnal asthma. There was no difference in the frequency of polymorphisms at loci 27 (Gln27 or Glu27) and 164 (Thr164 or Ile164) between the two groups. Thus the Gly16 polymorphism of the beta 2AR, which imparts an enhanced downregulation of receptor number, is overrepresented in nocturnal asthma and appears to be an important genetic factor in the expression of this asthmatic phenotype.