Neuronal muscarinic (M(2)) receptors inhibit release of acetylcholine from the vagus nerves. Hyperreactivity in antigen-challenged guinea pigs is due to blockade of these M(2) autoreceptors by eosinophil major basic protein (MBP) increasing the release of acetylcholine. In vivo, substance P-induced hyperactivity is vagally mediated. Because substance P induces eosinophil degranulation, we tested whether substance P-induced hyperreactivity is mediated by release of MBP and neuronal M(2) receptor dysfunction. Pathogen-free guinea pigs were anesthetized and ventilated. Thirty minutes after intravenous administration of [Sar(9),Met(O(2))(11)]- substance P, guinea pigs were hyperreactive to vagal stimulation and M(2) receptors were dysfunctional. The depletion of inflammatory cells with cyclophosphamide or the administration of an MBP antibody or a neurokinin-1 (NK(1)) receptor antagonist (SR-140333) all prevented substance P-induced M(2) dysfunction and hyperreactivity. Intravenous heparin acutely reversed M(2) receptor dysfunction and hyperreactivity. Thus substance P releases MBP from eosinophils resident in the lungs by stimulating NK(1) receptors. Substance P-induced hyperreactivity is mediated by blockade of inhibitory neuronal M(2) receptors by MBP, resulting in increased release of acetylcholine.