Cigarette smoking causes the development of chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. We hypothesized that exposure to cigarette smoke might initiate release of inflammatory mediators by bronchial epithelial cells. To evaluate this, the effect of cigarette smoke extract (CSE) on IL-8 release from cultured human bronchial epithelial cells was examined. CSE augmented IL-8 release from bronchial epithelial cells in a concentration- and time-dependent manner. Most of the augmenting activity of CSE on IL-8 release from bronchial epithelial cells was lost after volatilization or lyophilization treatment. Two major volatile factors in cigarette smoke, acrolein and acetaldehyde, augmented IL-8 release. Four cell strains were tested and showed increased IL-8 release in response to CSE. In addition, bronchoalveolar lavage was performed on 11 nonsmokers and 12 smokers. IL-8 concentration was greater in the proximal, bronchial samples than in distal, alveolar samples, and IL-8 in BAL from smokers was higher than in BAL from nonsmokers. There was a significant correlation between IL-8 concentration and neutrophil count in bronchial samples of BAL fluid. These data support the hypothesis that exposure to cigarette smoke may induce bronchial epithelial cells to release IL-8 and that this may contribute to airway inflammation in smokers.