The aim of this study was to compare the bronchodilator effects of salbutamol delivered via three different devices: a dry-powder inhaler (DPI), a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) with a large-volume spacer and a jet nebulizer (NEB) in patients with stable chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Ten male patients with stable COPD [age: 67.2 +/- 3.8 years, forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1): 1.56 +/- 0.32 liters] were studied in a randomized, double-blind and crossover manner. Each patient received 200 or 1, 000 microg salbutamol via an MDI with an InspirEaseTM spacer, a RotahalerTM, or a DeVilbiss 646(TM) nebulizer (NEB), or matching placebo on 7 separate days. Spirometry was performed before and 15, 30, 60, 90, 120, and 240 min after inhalation. With the 200- microg dose, only DPI produced a small but greater response in maximum FEV1 and in area under the time-response curve (AUC-FEV1) compared with placebo. With the 1,000- microg dose, DPI and MDI produced equally greater improvements in both maximum FEV1 and AUC-FEV1 than NEB. An equal bronchodilating effect can be obtained using either DPI or MDI with a spacer device, whereas the NEB was less effective when the same dose was administered.