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The gain spectrum in semiconductor lasers is affected by the intensity-dependent nonlinear effects taking place due to a finite intraband relaxation time of charge carriers. We obtain an analytic expression for the nonlinear gain in multimode semiconductor lasers using the density-matrix formalism. In general, the nonlinear gain is found to consist of the symmetric and asymmetric components. The asymmetry does not have its origin in the carrier-induced index change, but is related to details of the gain spectrum. The general expression for the nonlinear gain is used to discuss the range of single-longitudinal-mode operation of distributed feedback lasers. It is also used to obtain an analytic expression for the self-saturation coefficient and to compare the predicted value to the experimental value for both GaAs and InGaAsP lasers. The agreement between the theoretical and the experimental values supports the hypothesis that spectral hole burning is the dominant mechanism for the gain nonlinearities in semiconductor lasers.