Leukotrienes (LTs) C4 and B4 are potent proinflammatory mediators with a wide variety of biologic activities, including smooth muscle contraction, mucus hypersecretion, and leukocyte activation, which may be of particular relevance to the pathology of asthma and other respiratory diseases. We measured the concentrations of LTC4 and LTB4 in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from 16 atopic subjects with asthma (eight symptomatic and eight asymptomatic) and from 14 control subjects without asthma (six with hay fever and eight nonatopic). The amounts detected in symptomatic subjects with asthma were significantly higher than in control subjects (LTB4, 0.58 +/- 0.06 versus 0.36 +/- 0.05 pmol/ml, p less than 0.05; LTC4, 0.36 +/- 0.1 versus 0.12 +/- 0.02 pmol/ml, p less than 0.01). LTC4 and LTB4 were also measured in 17 patients: nine with interstitial lung disease of varying etiology (cryptogenic fibrosing alveolitis [CFA] or idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis), three with sarcoidosis, one with extrinsic allergic alveolitis, one with sulphonamide-induced pneumonia, and one patient with eosinophilic granuloma. The concentrations of LTB4 (but not LTC4) were significantly greater in patients with CFA compared with normal control subjects (0.69 +/- 0.3 versus 0.36 +/- 0.05 pmol/ml, p less than 0.01). There was a significant correlation (p less than 0.05) between the percentage of neutrophils and the concentration of LTB4 in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid) of the group with interstitial lung disease as a whole. This study provides evidence for a role for LTs in the airways of subjects with day-to-day asthma and suggests that LTB4 may also be involved in the recruitment of granulocytes into the lung in patients with CFA.