Accumulating evidence suggests that the early pulmonary inflammation pathogenesis in cystic fibrosis (CF) may be associated with an abnormal increase in the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the CF lung, even in the absence of infectious stimuli. We have postulated that if baseline abnormalities in airway epithelial cell production of cytokines occur in CF, they should be manifested in the CF bronchial submucosal glands, which are known to express high levels of CFTR (cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator) protein, the gene product mutated in CF disease. Immunohistochemical analyses showed that CF bronchial submucosal glands in patients homozygous for the deltaF508 deletion expressed elevated levels of the endogenous chemokine interleukin (IL)-8 but not the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1beta and IL-6, compared with non-CF bronchial glands. Moreover, basal protein and mRNA expression of IL-8 were constitutively up-regulated in cultured deltaF508 homozygous CF human bronchial gland cells, in an unstimulated state, compared with non-CF bronchial gland cells. Furthermore, the exposure of CF and non-CF bronchial gland cells to an elevated extracellular Cl- concentration markedly increased the release of IL-8, which can be corrected in CF gland cells by reducing the extracellular Cl- concentration. We also found that, in contrast to non-CF gland cells, dexamethasone did not inhibit the release of IL-8 by cultured CF gland cells. The selective up-regulation of bronchial submucosal gland IL-8 could represent a primary event that initiates early airway submucosal inflammation in CF patients. These findings are relevant to the pathogenesis of CF and suggest a novel pathophysiological concept for the early and sustained airway inflammation in CF patients.