Nitric oxide (NO) is produced by various cell types in the human respiratory tract. Endogenously produced nitric oxide is detectable in the exhaled air of healthy individuals. Exhaled NO has been shown to be increased in airway inflammation, most probably due to cytokine-mediated activation of NO synthases. To assess whether NO can serve as a marker of inflammation in cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease, we measured exhaled NO in CF patients with a chemiluminescence analyser. Single breath measurements were performed in 27 stable CF patients (age range, 6-40 years) and 30 non-smoking controls (age range, 6-37 years). Exhaled NO concentrations were 9.1 +/- 3.6 ppb in the controls and 5.9 +/- 2.6 ppb (P < 0.001) in CF patients. To account for room air NO concentrations on the measurement of exhaled NO, we also calculated the difference between exhaled NO and ambient NO concentrations. Difference values were also significantly lower in CF compared with controls (P < 0.0001). In CF patients there was a positive correlation between exhaled NO and forced vital capacity (r = 0.43, P = 0.033), suggesting that exhaled NO is lower in patients with severe lung disease than in those with mild disease. We conclude that measurements of exhaled NO in CF does not reflect activity of CF airway inflammation. The decreased concentrations of exhaled NO may be due to inhibitory effects of inflammatory cytokines on NO syntheses in the airways and alveolar epithelial cells or to increased retention in airway secretions.