The purpose of this study was to quantify the lower respiratory tract (LRT) dose delivered by a single nebulization of (99m)technetium-labeled sodium heparin as well as its airway distribution, and kinetics of aerosol clearance, since inhaled heparin may be useful in the treatment of asthma. Fifteen healthy subjects (5 male, 10 female) inhaled heparin from a jet nebulizer loaded with 90,000 IU of (99m)Tc-heparin, driving flow rate 10 L/min. Lung scintigrams and blood samples were taken immediately and at several time points up to 24 h after inhalation. 15 +/- 3% (mean +/- SD) (mean 13,300 IU) of the heparin nebulizer charge reached the mouth, and 8 +/- 2% (mean 7,000 IU) was found in the LRT. Jet nebulizer residual was 48 +/- 6% (mean 43,000 IU), 32 +/- 4% (mean 29,000) was found on exhalation filters, and 5 +/- 2% in the tubing. (99m)Tc-heparin was distributed uniformly in the lungs, and clearance was biphasic. 39 +/- 8% of the LRT dose of (99m)Tc-heparin remained in the lungs 24 h after inhalation. 10.00 +/- 3.40% (687 +/- 310 IU) of the LRT dose or 0.76 +/- 0.35% of the nebulizer charge was found in the blood. Peak concentration in the blood was found 61 +/- 25 min after conclusion of inhalation, which took 15 min. We conclude that a small but significant fraction of nebulized heparin reaches the LRT. The inhaled heparin distributes uniformly in the lungs from which it clears slowly, making it suitable for local administration without induction of measurable changes in coagulation assays. Administration of the present single dose of heparin thus appears to be safe.