Basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF or FGF-2), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and endothelin-1 (ET-1) are peptide growth factors (PGF) mediating normal lung development, maturation, injury, and repair. These PGF may therefore be involved in the pathogenesis of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). We hypothesized that elevated levels of these PGF in tracheal aspirates would be associated with a) BPD and/or death; b) markers of cell injury and apoptosis; and c) chorioamnionitis, a risk factor for BPD. Tracheal aspirates collected in 29 preterm (<34 wk gestation, 500-2000 g birth weight), mechanically ventilated infants on d 1 of life were assayed for PGF and histone-associated DNA fragments by ELISA and for LDH by enzyme assay. Clinical and pathologic examination was performed for chorioamnionitis. BPD was defined as oxygen requirement/mechanical ventilation at 28 d postnatal age. The birth weight (mean ± SE) was 1009 ± 85 g and median gestational age was 26 wk (range, 22-33). Eighteen infants died or developed BPD. bFGF levels were elevated in infants who died or developed BPD [median (25%,75%) level of 36 (23, 44) pg/mL versus 14 (6, 30) in the survivors without BPD, p = 0.01]. bFGF levels correlated with apoptosis (r = 0.73, p < 0.001) and LDH levels (r = 0.59, p < 0.001). VEGF and ET-1 levels were not associated with apoptosis or with BPD/death. PGF levels were not associated with chorioamnionitis. We conclude that elevated bFGF levels in the preterm trachea correlate with BPD/death and markers of cell injury and apoptosis but not with chorioamnionitis. We speculate that bFGF may play a role in the development of BPD.