Infection frequently causes exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Mannose-binding lectin (MBL) is a pattern-recognition receptor that assists in clearing microorganisms. Polymorphisms in the MBL2 gene reduce serum MBL levels and are associated with risk of infection. We studied whether the MBL2 codon 54 B allele affected serum MBL levels, admissions for infective exacerbation in COPD and disease susceptibility. Polymorphism frequency was determined by PCR-RFLP in 200 COPD patients and 104 smokers with normal lung function. Serum MBL was measured as mannan-binding activity in a subgroup of 82 stable COPD patients. Frequency of COPD admissions for infective exacerbation was ascertained for a 2-year period. The MBL2 codon 54 B allele reduced serum MBL in COPD patients. In keeping, patients carrying the low MBL-producing B allele had increased risk of admission for infective exacerbation (OR 4.9, P(corrected)=0.011). No association of MBL2 genotype with susceptibility to COPD was detected. In COPD, serum MBL is regulated by polymorphism at codon 54 in its encoding gene. Low MBL-producing genotypes were associated with more frequent admissions to hospital with respiratory infection, suggesting that the MBL2 gene is disease-modifying in COPD. MBL2 genotype should be explored prospectively as a prognostic marker for infection risk in COPD.