Smoking induces a chronic inflammatory process in the lower respiratory tract, where the alveolar macrophages (AM) are the main phagocytes. In the present study, the expressions of different membrane glycoproteins (CD11abc, CD71, CD54, CD14 and CD16) were determined by flow cytometry in AM from smokers and non-smokers after quenching of the intracellular autofluorescence. The metabolic activity of the AM was quantified as a functional test. The expressions of CD11a, CD54 and CD71 were higher in non-smokers' AM than in smokers'. The expressions of CD11b and CD16 were similar between the groups, while the CD11c was higher in smokers' AM compared with non-smokers'. The expression of CD14 was weak in both groups, therefore there was no clear-cut difference between the background and positively labelled cell populations. The metabolic response after in vitro stimulation with the phorbol ester phorbol myristate acetate (PMA) was higher in non-smokers' than in smokers' AM. Our results indicate that chronic exposure to tobacco smoke influences both the expression of AM membrane antigens and the metabolic activity. AM from non-smokers express a phenotype more related to cell proliferation and an accessory function. In contrast, receptors reflecting adhesion and phagocytosis were unaltered or even increased in smokers' AM. The findings suggest a functional change in the AM population after chronic smoke exposure.