We studied post-mortem 9 nonsmokers' lungs and 9 smokers' lungs as well as 14 surgical smokers' lungs to examine the possible relationship of the number of alveolar attachments with airways inflammation and with lung function. Alveolar attachments are the alveolar walls radially attached to the small airways, and any discontinuity or rupture of these alveolar walls was considered abnormal. Normal and abnormal attachments were counted in nonsmokers and smokers and expressed as number of attachments, distance between attachments, and percentage of abnormal attachments. Although internal small airways diameter and mean linear intercept were not significantly different between smokers of either group and nonsmokers, significant differences in number of attachments (p less than 0.001), distance between attachments (p less than 0.01), and percentage of abnormal attachments (p less than 0.01) were found. The 3 indexes of alveolar attachments correlated significantly with the score for airways inflammation and with the elastic recoil pressure in smokers. No significant correlation with any other lung function test was found. We conclude that smokers have fewer alveolar attachments than do nonsmokers, and that the loss of alveolar attachments represents an early stage in the destruction of lung parenchyma, and is probably linked to inflammation of the small airways. Because of the strategic situation of this lesion, it could be responsible in part for the loss of elastic recoil seen in the initial stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.