We determined the effect of inhaled corticosteroid, budesonide, on the release of the anti-inflammatory cytokine, interleukin-10 (IL-10), and of pro-inflammatory cytokines, macrophage inflammatory protein-1alpha (MIP-1alpha), interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma), and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), from blood monocytes and alveolar macrophages of mild asthmatic subjects in a double-blind, cross-over, placebo-controlled study. Budesonide reduced bronchial hyperresponsiveness and improved baseline FEV1. Alveolar macrophages were obtained by bronchoalveolar lavage performed at the end of each treatment phase. IL-10 from blood monocytes was not altered, but both IL-10 mRNA and protein expression from alveolar macrophages stimulated by lipopolysaccharide and IL-1beta were increased after corticosteroid therapy. By contrast, alveolar macrophages released significantly less MIP-1alpha, IFN-gamma, and GM-CSF after steroid treatment. In comparison to alveolar macrophages from normal nonasthmatic volunteers, those from asthmatic patients released more MIP-1alpha, IFN-gamma, and GM-CSF but lower amounts of IL-10 particularly at baseline and after IL-1beta stimulation. The ability of steroids to inhibit pro-inflammatory cytokines but to enhance the anti-inflammatory cytokine such as IL-10 may contribute to their beneficial actions in asthma. Asthma is characterized by alveolar macrophages exhibiting both an enhanced capacity to release pro-inflammatory cytokines and a reduced capacity to produce IL-10.