Pulmonary surfactant in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) and induced sputum from adults with stable asthma (n = 36) and healthy controls (n = 12) was analyzed for phospholipid and protein compositions and function. Asthmatic subjects were graded as mild, moderate, or severe. Phospholipid compositions of BALF and sputum from control subjects were similar and characteristic of surfactant. For asthmatic subjects, the proportion of dipalmitoyl phosphatidylcholine (16:0/16:0PC), the major phospholipid in surfactant, decreased in sputum (P < 0.05) but not in BALF. In BALF, mole percent 16:0/16:0PC correlated with surfactant function measured in a capillary surfactometer, and sputum mole percent 16:0/16:0PC correlated with lung function (forced expiratory volume in 1 s). Neither surfactant protein A nor total protein concentration in either BALF or sputum was altered in asthma. These results suggest altered phospholipid composition and function of airway (sputum) but not alveolar (BALF) surfactant in stable asthma. Such underlying surfactant dysfunction may predispose asthmatic subjects to further surfactant inhibition by proteins or aeroallergens in acute asthma episodes and contribute to airway closure in asthma. Consequently, administration of an appropriate therapeutic surfactant could provide clinical benefit in asthma.