Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia cepacia cause destructive lung disease in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Both pathogens employ 'quorum sensing', i.e. cell-to-cell communication, via diffusible N-acyl-L-homoserine lactone (AHL) signal molecules, to regulate the production of a number of virulence determinants in vitro. However, to date, evidence that quorum sensing systems are functional and play a role in vivo is lacking. This study presents the first direct evidence for the presence of AHLs in CF sputum. A total of 42 samples from 25 CF patients were analysed using lux-based Escherichia coli AHL biosensors. AHLs were detected in sputum from patients colonised by P. aeruginosa or B. cepacia but not Staphylococcus aureus. Furthermore, using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and thin layer chromatography, we confirmed the presence of N-hexanoylhomoserine lactone and N-(3-oxododecanoyl)homoserine lactone respectively in sputum samples from patients colonised by P. aeruginosa.