Lung disease is the direct cause of death in over 90% of cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Excess neutrophil elastase is an important determinant of pulmonary disease in CF. alpha1-antitrypsin (AAT), also known as alpha1-proteinase inhibitor (alpha1PI) is a major modulator of elastase activity. We investigated the hypothesis that an enhancer polymorphism in the AAT gene would contribute to pulmonary prognosis in CF. Respiratory function, chest X-ray scores, bacterial colonisation and infective exacerbation were assessed to evaluate pulmonary disease severity in the CF group. Sixteen patients were found to have the 1237A allele, and 108 the more frequent G allele. Contrary to expectation, the patients with the 1237A allele were found to have better indices of pulmonary disease progression than those without, as indicated by less change in X-ray score (1237A: 0.2+/-0.1; 1237G: 1.2+/-0.1; P = 0.002) and fewer infective exacerbations (1237A: 2.8+/-0.6; 1237G: 4.6+/-0.3; P = 0.03) over the preceding 2 years. Also, a higher proportion of the 1237A (25%) than the 1237G (6.5%) were not colonised by Pseudomonas Aeruginosa (P = 0.04). Prospective monitoring of infections for a further 2 years confirmed a lesser propensity to infection in patients with the 1237A allele. These trends were also observed in a tightly matched sub-set of CF genotypes of similar age and sex, thus confirming that these effects were independent of the CF genotype. These results indicate that this AAT enhancer polymorphism is associated with better pulmonary prognosis in CF. Though the number of CF patients with the polymorphism is small, and these data need to be confirmed in larger studies, they suggest that a cautious approach should perhaps be taken to treatment of CF patients with supplemental AAT.