Cytokines are considered to play a role in the airway inflammation of bronchial asthma. We examined the cellular profile and cytokine levels in induced sputum samples obtained before and after treatment with beclomethasone dipropionate (BDP, 800 microg/day, for 4 weeks) in 12 mild to moderate asthmatic subjects who had not previously received inhaled glucocorticosteroids. Sputum was induced with a 20-min inhalation of 3% saline by an ultrasonic nebulizer. The freshly expectorated sputum separated from the saliva was analyzed for cell counts, for the concentration of interleukin-8 (IL-8), and for the concentration of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF). The mean percentage of eosinophils in the sputum samples decreased significantly after BDP treatment, but no significant change in the percentage of neutrophils was observed. The mean IL-8 and GM-CSF levels also decreased significantly after treatment. The BDP treatment was associated with an increase in the mean peak expiratory flow (PEF) and with a decrease in the diurnal variation of PEF. These results suggest that inhaled steroids improve airway inflammation and lung function in asthmatics, presumably in part by inhibiting the synthesis of inflammatory cytokines such as IL-8 and GM-CSF.