Recent clinical trials have shown that the survival of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is improved by ventilation with reduced volumes. These studies suggested that overinflation of the lungs causes overactivation of the immune system. The present study investigated the hypothesis that ventilation with increased tidal volumes results in early responses similar to those caused by stimulation with one of the major risk factors for ARDS: bacterial lipopolysaccharide (LPS). We therefore compared the effects of ventilation (-10 cm H2O or -25 cm H2O end-inspiratory pressure) and LPS (50 microg/ml) on nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB activation, chemokine release, and cytokine release in isolated perfused lungs obtained from BALB/C mice. We found that both LPS and ventilation with -25 cm H2O (overventilation; OV) caused translocation of NF-kappaB, which was abolished by pretreatment with the steroid dexamethasone. Furthermore, both treatments resulted in similar increases in perfusate levels of alpha-chemokines (macrophage inflammatory protein; [MIP]-2; KC), beta-chemokines (macrophage chemotactic protein-1; MIP-1alpha), and cytokines (tumor necrosis factor-alpha, interleukin-6), which were largely prevented by dexamethasone pretreatment. In LPS-resistant C3H/HeJ mice, only OV, and not LPS, caused translocation of NF-kappaB and release of MIP-2. We conclude that OV evokes early inflammatory responses similar to those evoked by LPS (i.e., NF-kappaB translocation and release of proinflammatory mediators). The NF-kappaB translocation elicited by OV appears to be independent of Toll-like receptor 4 and not due to LPS contamination introduced by the ventilator. Our data further suggest that steroids might be considered as a subsidiary treatment during artificial mechanical ventilation.