Neutrophils recruited to the airways in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are thought to mediate tissue destruction. Neutrophil recruitment is increased during bacterial exacerbations. The inflammatory process was studied in patients with an acute exacerbation of COPD in order to ascertain the role of leukotriene B4 (LTB4). The sputum of eight subjects with a bacterial exacerbation of COPD was analysed for neutrophil products (myeloperoxidase, elastase) and chemoattractants (interleukin-8 (IL-8) and LTB4). The contribution of LTB4 to the chemotactic activity of the sputum sol phase was determined using the LTB4 receptor antagonist LY293111. The concentrations of the serum acute phase proteins alpha1-proteinase inhibitor, alpha1-antichymotrypsin and C-reactive protein were measured. All patients received appropriate broad-spectrum antibiotic treatment for 7-14 days. Initially, the sputum myeloperoxidase activity was high, indicating neutrophil influx; this was associated with high levels of IL-8 and LTB4. All these concentrations fell with treatment (p<0.01). The chemotactic activity of the sputum was raised on presentation and fell with treatment (p<0.01). LTB4 contributed approximately 30% of the total chemotactic activity on presentation; this diminished with therapy. All acute phase proteins were raised on presentation and fell with therapy (p<0.01). These findings suggest that leukotriene B4 contributes to neutrophil influx into the airway in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and may influence disease progression.