Airway inflammation is an important pathologic feature in chronic bronchitis, and we hypothesized that individuals with greater inflammatory responses may be more likely to acquire the disease. A polymorphism at -308 position of the tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) gene has been described, with the rarer allele, TNF2, demonstrated to have higher inducibility in vitro. We investigated the distribution of this polymorphism in a case-control study. The genotype was determined in 42 male patients with chronic bronchitis, 42 sex-, age-, and smoking index-matched control subjects, and 99 random-sampled schoolchildren. We report here that the TNF2 allele is overrepresented in the patient group. The allele frequency of TNF2 is 5.1% in the schoolchildren, 2.4% in the control group, and 19% in the bronchitis group (p < 0.01). Carriage of the TNF2 allele confers a higher risk to the development of chronic bronchitis (odds ratio = 11.1, 95% CI = 2.89-42.57). The results demonstrate the important pathologic role of TNF-alpha in chronic bronchitis and suggest that greater inflammatory response may predispose an individual to this disease.