The inflammatory pathways involved in asthma are more complex than the sole Th2-mediated eosinophilic airway inflammation. Different phenotypes of asthma have been recently highlighted and are probably underlied by different immunological profiles. The aim of the study was to assess cytokine production from sputum cells in eosinophilic versus non-eosinophilic asthmatics. Induced sputum was obtained from 48 consecutive stable mild to moderate asthmatics (20 eosinophilic asthmatics, 28 non-eosinophilic asthmatics) and 31 healthy subjects. Cytokine released from sputum cells were measured by a home-made two-step sandwich immunoassay. Cytokines investigated were interleukin (IL)-4, IL-6, IL-10, tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α and interferon (IFN)-γ. Sputum cells from eosinophilic asthmatics produced more IL-4 than those from both healthy subjects (P < 0·05) and non-eosinophilic asthmatics (P < 0·05). Conversely, sputum cells from eosinophilic asthma were found to release lower amounts of TNF-α than those from healthy subjects (P < 0·05). The group of non-eosinophilic asthmatics did not distinguish from healthy subjects with respect to any cytokines measured. Sputum cells from asthmatics exhibiting eosinophilic airway inflammation release more IL-4 and less TNF-α than those of healthy subjects. By contrast, non-eosinophilic asthmatics did not distinguish from healthy subjects by abnormal cytokine release from their sputum cells.