Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious respiratory pathology characterized by irreversible limitation of expiratory flow and includes chronic obstructive bronchitis, chronic airflow limitation, and emphysema. To determine whether xanthine oxidase activity increased in the airspaces of COPD patients, we examined bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BAL) from COPD patients recruited during a 2-year clinical study. Filtered BAL supernatant from COPD patients and healthy nonsmoking controls was examined by fluorometric analysis of DNA unwinding (FADU) and spectrophotometric assays (cytochrome c reduction kinetics and uric acid kinetics). Compared to controls, filtered BAL supernatant of subjects with COPD exhibited a detectable clastogenic activity probably related to superoxide production. The method of BAL preparation as an acellular system strongly suggests that superoxide production may be due to xanthine oxidase activity.