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Using experimental measurements of the gain–current characteristic as a function of temperature in InGaAs quantum-dot lasers, we demonstrate that it is the population of wetting-layer states that leads to a saturation of the population inversion in dot states and hence to the saturation of gain in a quantum-dot laser. At 300 K, the maximum modal gain for a three-layer structure is reduced from 53 to 14 cm-1. © 2002 American Institute of Physics.