Recent publications have demonstrated potentially pathologic changes in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) from clinically stable lung transplant recipients (SLTRs), but there are few available data on alveolar macrophages (AMs). We formulated the hypothesis that changes in BAL AM and lymphocyte phenotypes would be apparent even in SLTRs.A cross-sectional study using a standardized 3 x 60 ml BAL, investigating lymphocyte and AM phenotypes in 19 SLTRs, 5 subjects with bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS) and 18 normal control volunteers. BAL lymphocyte and AM markers were assessed using flow cytometry. We confirmed a significant elevation of neutrophils in all lung transplant recipients with a more marked elevation in the BOS subjects. Flow-cytometric analysis showed increased numbers of natural killer (NK; CD56/CD16-positive) cells, increased CD11b- and CD11c-positive CD3 lymphocytes, increased CD8-positive lymphocytes and increased HLA-DR expression in CD8 cells from the lung transplant recipients, when compared with normals (p <.005). In contrast, the expression of a number of AM surface markers, associated with a range of host defense functions against bacteria, fungi and viruses (CD11a, CD11b, CD11c, HLA-DR, CD14), was lower in both SLTRs and those with BOS (p <.05). These novel findings are consistent with complex lymphocyte and macrophage changes that may result from clinically silent infection, partially suppressed rejection, or both.