Endothelial dysfunction and intimal thickening have been shown in pulmonary arteries (PA) of patients with mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). To investigate whether an inflammatory process related to tobacco smoking might be involved in the development of pulmonary vascular abnormalities in COPD, we characterized the inflammatory cell infiltrate and the endothelium-dependent relaxation in PA of 39 patients who underwent lung resection, divided into three groups: "nonsmokers" (n = 7); "smokers," with normal lung function (n = 12); and "COPD" (n = 20). Endothelium-dependent relaxation was assessed in vitro by exposing PA rings to adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Inflammatory cell types were identified by immunohistochemistry. PA of COPD patients developed lower relaxation in response to ADP than nonsmokers and smokers. The number of inflammatory cells was increased in PA of COPD compared with the other two groups. This cell infiltrate was largely constituted by T lymphocytes. The CD8(+) T-cell subset was increased in both smokers and COPD compared with nonsmokers, yielding a reduction of the CD4(+)/CD8(+) ratio. The intensity of the inflammatory infiltrate correlated with both the endothelium-dependent relaxation and the intimal thickness. We conclude that cigarette smoking induces a CD8(+) T-lymphocyte infiltrate in PA, which is associated with the impairment of the vessel's structure and function, suggesting the potential involvement of an inflammatory process in the pathogenesis of pulmonary vascular abnormalities in the early stage of COPD.