L-arginine metabolism including the nitric oxide (NO) synthase and arginase pathways is important in the maintenance of airways function. We have previously reported that accumulation of asymmetric dimethylarginine (ADMA) in airways, resulting in changes in L-arginine metabolism, contributes to airways obstruction in asthma and cystic fibrosis. Herein, we assessed L-arginine metabolism in airways of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Lung function testing, measurement of fractional exhaled NO (FeNO) and sputum NO metabolites, as well as quantification of L-arginine metabolites (L-arginine, L-ornithine, L-citrulline, ADMA and symmetric dimethylarginine) using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) were performed. Concentrations of L-ornithine, the product of arginase activity, correlated directly with L-arginine and ADMA sputum concentrations. FeNO correlated directly with pre- and post-bronchodilator forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1). Sputum arginase activity correlated inversely with total NO metabolite (NOx) and nitrite concentrations in sputum, and with pre- and post-bronchodilator FEV1. These findings suggest that ADMA in COPD airways results in a functionally relevant shift of L-arginine breakdown by the NO synthases towards the arginase pathway, which contributes to airway obstruction in these patients.