Infectious laryngotracheitis results in fulminant respiratory distress. During the disease, the subglottic mucosa is selectively infected and swollen, the reason for this preference being unknown. Therefore, in the present study the immunoreaction of the laryngeal mucosa was studied in the rat after inhalation of either heat-killed Moraxella catarrhalis (PVG rats) or application of viable Bordetella pertussis (BN rats). The number of neutrophils, macrophages, dendritic cells, and T and B lymphocytes was determined in the mucosa of the supraglottic, glottic, and subglottic area of the larynx as well as in the trachea. After application of the pathogens, the mucosa of the subglottic area was significantly more affected than the glottic mucosa. Already 1 h after application of M. catarrhalis, not only neutrophils but also dendritic cells and T and B lymphocytes were found both subepithelially and within the epithelium. They showed a similar kinetic progression, although at a different level. Two hours after application of M. catarrhalis, at the peak of inflammation, dendritic cells (173 +/- 10 cells/0.1 mm2) outnumbered neutrophils (54 +/- 9 cells/0.1 mm2), T lymphocytes (25 +/- 2 cells/0.1 mm2), and B lymphocytes (4.3 cells/0.1 mm2). The subglottic area (and the trachea) contained about three to five times more cells than the glottic area. In contrast, the number of local macrophages was lower in the subglottic area (24 +/- 5 cells/0.1 mm2) compared with that of the glottic area (38 +/- 6 cells/0.1 mm2), and did not change after application of both M. catarrhalis and B. pertussis. Thus, infectious laryngotracheitis in the rat closely resembles the clinical picture in children. In addition, the present results show a major difference in cellular influx in the mucosa of the glottic and subglottic area. This demonstrates that even in two closely adjacent locations, inflammatory responses of different magnitudes can occur, and it underlines the importance of regulatory mechanisms specific for the respective microenvironment.