To examine the nature and the degree of leukocyte infiltration and to determine the state of activation of cells in bronchial mucosa of subjects with chronic bronchitis, bronchoscopy was performed in 10 subjects with a history of cigarette smoking and chronic sputum production and in six normal nonsmoking control subjects. Lobar bronchial biopsies were examined using histochemical and immunohistochemical techniques. Subjects with chronic bronchitis had an increased number of total leukocytes (CD45 positive cells), both in the epithelium and in the lamina propria, than did the control subjects (p < 0.05), whereas the numbers of neutrophils, eosinophils, and mast cells were similar in the two groups. There was a significant increase in the numbers of macrophages (p < 0.01) and of T-lymphocytes (CD3 positive cells) (p < 0.05) in the lamina propria of chronic bronchitics, whereas the relative proportions of CD4 and CD8 positive cells were similar in the bronchitics and the control subjects. Subjects with chronic bronchitis also had an increased expression of markers of lymphocyte activation, i.e., an increased number of interleukin-2 receptor positive cells (CD25 positive cells) (p < 0.05) and an increased number of very late activation antigen (VLA-1) positive cells (p < 0.05). In conclusion, the present study provides evidence for mononuclear cell infiltration and for T-cell activation in bronchial mucosa of subjects with chronic bronchitis, supporting the involvement of these cells in the pathogenesis of the disease.