Asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are common respiratory illnesses characterized by chronic inflammation of the airways. The characterization of induced or spontaneously produced sputum is a useful technique to assess airway inflammation. In the present study, we compared the concentrations of CCL2, CCL11, CXCL8, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) in plasma and induced sputum of patients with severe asthma or COPD and correlated the levels of these mediators with inflammatory cells in sputum. Asthmatic patients had elevated levels of eosinophils (40.1 +/- 6.24%) in sputum whereas neutrophils (63.3 +/- 4.66%) predominated in COPD patients. The levels of the chemokine CCL11 were markedly increased in sputum (708.7 +/- 330.7 pg/ml) and plasma (716.6 +/- 162.2 pg/ml) of asthmatic patients and correlated with the percentage of eosinophils in induced sputum. The concentrations of CXCL8 (817.0 +/- 105.2 pg/ml) and TNF-alpha (308.8 +/- 96.1 pg/ml) were higher in sputum of COPD patients and correlated with the percentage of neutrophils in induced sputum. There was also an increase in the concentrations of CXCL8 (43.2 +/- 6.8 pg/ml) in sputum of asthmatic patients. These results validate that sputum is a suitable method to assess chemokines and cytokines associated with asthma and COPD. Moreover, the mechanisms involved in the synthesis of CCL11 and CXCL8/TNF-alpha would be helpful to better understand the inflammatory profile associated with asthma and COPD, respectively.