This study investigated cytokine protein levels (interleukin-12 p70 [IL-12p70], p40, and IL-10) in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) from patients with pulmonary sarcoidosis (n = 59), healthy control subjects (n = 17), and patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) (n = 30). The relationship between cytokine levels and clinical course of sarcoidosis was also examined. Overall, p40 was far more abundant than IL-12p70. p40 levels (pg/ml, mean +/- SEM) were significantly higher in the BALF from patients with sarcoidosis (2.97 +/- 3.69) than in IPF patients (0.83 +/- 1.57) and healthy subjects (0.78 +/- 1.00). Size exclusion chromatography indicated that p40 detected in BALF from sarcoidosis patients corresponded to p40 monomers or (p40)(2) homodimers. Further, p40 levels were associated with (paralleled) the clinical course of sarcoidosis, with the highest levels detected in BALF from patients with persistent disease. Higher p40 levels were also found in the BALF from sarcoid patients who required corticosteroid treatment compared with patients with spontaneous regression (3.51 +/- 3.83 vs. 2.01 +/- 3.43, p = 0.03). IL-10 concentrations paralleled p40 changes. No similar association was found for IL-12p70 levels. In conclusion, this report shows that the BALF from patients with sarcoidosis contains elevated levels of p40, (p40)(2), and IL-10 protein but not of IL-12p70. The present data also suggest that BALF p40 concentrations may be indicative of the sarcoidosis clinical course.