Metarhizium anisopliae, an entomopathogenic fungus, is a prototypic microbial pesticide licensed for indoor control of cockroaches, a major source of allergens. We have previously demonstrated allergy and asthma-like responses in BALB/c mice intraperitoneally (IP) sensitized in the presence of adjuvant and intratracheally (IT) challenged with the soluble factors from M. anisopliae crude antigen (MACA) (Ward et al., 1998, 2000). This protocol has been used frequently to establish animal models of allergenicity. However, the sensitization protocol is artificial and not representative of an environmental exposure. Concern has been raised that this protocol might produce allergic responses that would not occur under normal environmental exposure conditions. The objective of this study was to compare responses in mice to MACA by two exposure protocols: (1) exclusive respiratory exposures without adjuvant (representative of environmental exposures) and (2) intraperitoneal sensitization in the presence of adjuvant followed by IT challenge (the traditional approach). The intratracheal protocol consisted of four IT exposures of 10 microg MACA in 50 microl HBSS each over a 4-week period. A vehicle control group of mice was exposed IT to HBSS. The intraperitoneal protocol consisted of IP sensitization with 25 microg MACA in 0.2 ml of 1.3% alhydrogel (aluminum hydroxide) followed 14 days later with an IT challenge (10 microg MACA/50 microl HBSS). Airway reactivity responsiveness to methacholine was assessed, serum and bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) samples were obtained, and the lungs were fixed for histopathology at 1, 3, and 8 days following the last MACA IT challenge. Both groups exhibited immune and pulmonary responses typical of allergic asthma. In general, local responses in the lung, including inflammatory responses (eosinophils, lymphocytes, and macrophages), BALF IgE, and functional responses to methacholine were greater in the IT sensitized group compared to the IP sensitized group, whereas the systemic IgE response was greater in the IP sensitized group. The BALF IL-5 cytokine levels were elevated before and throughout the eosinophil influx. IL-4 was detected in the BALF of IP sensitized, but not IT sensitized mice. Histopathologic changes in the two groups were similar in nature but more severe in the IT mice. The results suggest that the IP sensitization protocol does not induce the level of respiratory responsiveness that results from sensitization by a physiologically relevant route of exposure. Thus total serum IgE levels, which were greater following IP sensitization, may not be the best indicator of allergen potency, at least with respect to respiratory responses.