In this study healthy never-smoking subjects (n = 18) were recruited from a population study. Bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), blood lymphocytes and bronchial biopsies, analysed both in the epithelium and lamina propria, were stained for T and B lymphocytes, natural killer (NK) cells and different subpopulations of T lymphocytes. In BAL, significantly higher proportions of T lymphocytes (CD3), T lymphocyte activation markers; HLA-DR, CD26+, CD49a+, CD54+ and CD69+, helper T (CD3+4+) and memory helper T lymphocytes (CD4+45RO+29+) and memory T lymphocytes (CD3+45RO+) were found, compared to blood. However, the proportion of IL-2 receptor-positive T lymphocytes (CD25+) was lower in BAL than in blood. A previously described higher ratio of CD3+4+/CD3+8+ in BAL than in blood (3.4 vs 1.7; P = 0.001) was confirmed. In bronchial biopsies, we found significantly higher numbers of CD8+ cell profiles per mm2 in the epithelial compared to the lamina propria compartment. We conclude that healthy never-smoking men have higher levels of activated memory T lymphocytes in BAL than in blood, and that the T-cell subpopulations differ in the epithelial compared to the lamina propria compartment in the bronchial mucosa and these compartments should be analysed separately. It is reasonable to think that there is a gradient from blood to the airway lumen where T cells are recruited from blood to take part in the defense towards damaging agents.