Epidemiological studies have reported increased morbidity in human populations following inhalation of elevated levels of urban particulate matter. These responses are especially prevalent in populations with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, including chronic bronchitis. Toxicological studies have reported altered pulmonary function and increased pulmonary inflammation following particulate inhalation in the laboratory setting. However, most of these studies have utilized artificial particles that may not accurately mimic outdoor air pollutant conditions. Few studies have utilized actual urban air particle samples in inhalation studies. In the present study, the effects of inhaled concentrated urban air particulates on pulmonary function and pulmonary inflammation are addressed. Normal rats and rats with chronic bronchitis induced by approximately 200 ppm SO(2) for 6 wk were subsequently subjected to filtered air or concentrated air particles (CAPs). Twelve rats per group in 4 groups (48 rats total) were exposed for 5 h/day for 3 consecutive days. The CAPs aerosol levels were 206, 733, and 607 microg/m(3) (MMAD = 0.18 microm, sigma(g) = 2.9) on days 1, 2, and 3, respectively. Following the final day of exposure, pulmonary function parameters, including peak expiratory flow (PEF), tidal volume (TV), respiratory frequency (RF), and minute volume (MV), were measured and compared to preexposure baseline levels. Twenty-four hours following the final day of exposure, bronchoalveolar lavage was performed for total cell counts, differential cell counts, and total lavage protein levels. Pulmonary responses to CAPs in chronic bronchitic animals indicated a significant increase in tidal volume as well as peak expiratory flow. In CAPs-exposed animals without underlying bronchitis, significantly increased tidal volume was observed. Significant pulmonary inflammation was observed in the CAPs-exposed animals, particularly those with chronic bronchitis. Significant increases in neutrophils, lymphocytes, and total lavage protein were observed. These results suggest two distinct mechanistic responses to inhaled particles: a stress-type pulmonary function response marked by increases in flow and volume, that is, deeper breathing; and acute pulmonary inflammation marked by cellular influx, particularly neutrophils. From these data it is concluded that inhaled urban air particles alter pulmonary breathing parameters and increase pulmonary inflammation.