Advanced emphysema with bronchitis is associated with significant weight loss and malnutrition, the true cause of which has not been clearly identified. The purpose of this exploratory study was to compare plasma amino acids and related compounds and catecholamines in a group of patients with advanced end-stage emphysema with a control group of similar age and sex in an effort to further understand this malnourished state. Fasting blood samples were obtained by venipuncture after a rest period. Plasma amino acid levels were determined by ion exchange high pressure liquid chromatography with fluorometric detection. Plasma catecholamines were determined by radioenzymatic analysis. Anthropometric measurements, the usually accepted biochemical markers of nutrition, dietary analysis, pulmonary function tests, and a historical analysis of the state of health including drug use and smoking history in each subject were analyzed. Ages and heights were comparable, whereas weights were significantly decreased in the patients with emphysema. Total serum protein and serum albumin values were significantly lower in the patient group. Significant respiratory muscle weakness was indicated by reduced negative inspiratory force in these end-stage patients, contrasting with well-preserved muscle strength usually found in obstructive lung disease. The dietary caloric intake of the patients was comparable to that of the control subjects. We conclude that the fine balance of the amino acid pool in patients with bronchitis and emphysema is well preserved, except for significant elevations of aspartic acid, glutamine, and cystine, and a decreased level of leucine. In addition, norepinephrine levels were significantly increased. Weight loss in patients with emphysema and bronchitis is likely due to increased energy demands related to hypermetabolism.