We examined the effect of inhibition of ethanol metabolism on ethanol-mediated suppression of Escherichia coli endotoxin (LPS-induced upregulation of transcription and release of inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) from rat alveolar macrophages (AM) in vivo. Ethanol (3.45 and 5.5 g/kg/IP) and t-butanol (3.7 g/kg, IP), given 30 min before intratracheal administration of LPS (1.0 mg/kg), inhibited the upregulation of iNOS mRNA and protein, determined by competitor equalized RT-PCR and Western immunoblot, respectively, but not TNFalpha mRNA in AM obtained 2 h after LPS administration by bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). However, ethanol and t-butanol inhibited LPS-stimulated nitrate and nitrite (RNI) and TNFalpha protein in BAL fluid. Pretreatment of rats with 4-methylpyrazole (100 mg/kg, IP) 2 h before, or disulfiram 30 min before, administration of ethanol (3.45 g/kg, IP) failed to attenuate the inhibitory effect on iNOS mRNA or protein. t-Butyl hydroperoxide (100 mg/kg, IP) given to rats 30 min before administration of LPS enhanced LPS-mediated upregulation of iNOS mRNA and TNFalpha protein in AM and BAL fluid. The inhibitory effect of ethanol on iNOS mRNA was not mediated by an interaction with elevated levels of circulating corticosterone because pretreatment of rats with RU-38486 (100 mg/kg, IM), which inhibited prednisolone (50 mg/kg, IM), induced suppression of LPS-stimulated iNOS mRNA, and failed to attenuate ethanol-mediated inhibition of LPS-stimulated iNOS mRNA in AM. We conclude that metabolism of ethanol to acetaldehyde via alcohol dehydrogenase is not required for ethanol-mediated suppression of LPS-induced iNOS transcription and TNFalpha synthesis/release in AM. Moreover, an interaction of ethanol or acetaldehyde with circulating corticosterone is not involved in ethanol-mediated attenuation of LPS-stimulated iNOS mRNA or protein or TNFalpha protein in the lung. Speculatively, because oxidation of t-butanol to t-butylhydroperoxide results in activation, rather than inhibition, of iNOS and TNF-alpha, the reported ethanol-mediated enhancement of iNOS mRNA may result from the action of the hydroxyethyl radical.