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Optical gain and loss have been measured in type II InAs/GaInSb interband cascade lasers operating in the 3.4–3.6 μm wavelength range. The maximum temperature of cw operation was found to be limited by strong gain saturation due to active region overheating, while the temperature increase of the total optical loss was relatively small. In devices with a longer lasing wavelength and a thinner substrate-side cladding layer, a strong periodic modulation of the optical gain spectra was observed. This effect is consistent with resonant optical leakage into the substrate. © 2003 American Institute of Physics.