BACKGROUND We speculated that the expression of integrins in the airway lumen of asthmatic subjects might be altered compared with normal subjects during cell recruitment from circulation. METHODS To test this hypothesis, we investigated the expression of integrin alpha-chains (CD11a, CD11b, and CD11c) in hypertonic saline-induced sputum and peripheral blood leukocytes in mild to moderate stable asthmatic and control subjects. Immunoreactivity for integrin alpha-chains was assessed by immunocytology on cytospin preparations of sputum and blood. RESULTS In comparison of the percentages of CD11a+, CD11b+ and CD11c+ mononuclear cells in sputum with their blood counterparts, no significant differences were observed in control subjects, whereas CD11a and CD11b in asthmatic subjects were less expressed on sputum cells. In both control and asthmatic subjects, sputum neutrophils tended to decrease their expression of integrin alpha-chains compared with circulating neutrophils. CONCLUSIONS We showed that the sputum of asthmatics, unlike normal subjects, is characterized by decreased expression of integrins on mononuclear cells compared with their blood counterparts. The results suggest that downregulation of integrins occurs in asthmatic airways after cell recruitment from circulation.