Plasma levels of amino acids were measured by ion-exchange, high-pressure liquid chromatography in 30 ambulatory patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD; mean +/- SD: age 64 +/- 13 y and forced expiratory volume in 1 s [FEV1] 0.85 +/- 0.25 L) and 30 age- and sex-matched healthy control subjects with regard to nutritional status, resting energy expenditure (REE), and pulmonary function. The ratio of branched-chain amino acids to aromatic amino acids was significantly (P < 0.001) decreased in COPD patients and was significantly correlated with percentage of ideal body weight (r = 0.403, P < 0.05), percentage of arm-muscle circumference (r = 0.492, P < 0.01), and %FEV1 (r = 0.467, P < 0.05). Plasma levels of alanine and cysteine were decreased, whereas levels of glutamine, aspartic acid, serine, and ornithine were elevated in COPD patients as opposed to control subjects. The ratio of resting energy expenditure to predicted resting energy expenditure was negatively correlated with the ratio of branched-chain to aromatic amino acids (r = -0.716, P < 0.01), percentage of arm-muscle circumference (r = -0.770, P < 0.05), %FEV1 (r = -0.839, P < 0.01), and the maximal inspiratory pressure (r = -0.803, P < 0.001). Underweight COPD patients also exhibited a greater degree of hyperinflation (percentage of residual volume = 205 +/- 15 for underweight patients and 156 +/- 8 for normal-weight patients). In conclusion, a decrease in plasma levels of branched-chain amino acids in relation to hypermetabolism, possibly resulting from the severity of COPD and respiratory muscle weakness, and various disturbances in plasma amino-acid levels were found in underweight COPD patients.