Inflammatory cytokines are suspected to contribute to the pathogenesis of bovine pneumonic pasteurellosis (BPP) through neutrophil recruitment, leukocyte activation, and the induction of a broad array of soluble inflammatory mediators. An in vivo experimental model of BPP was used to characterize the pulmonary expression kinetics of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha), interleukin-1 beta (IL-1beta), and interleukin-8 (IL-8) genes and proteins during the acute phase of disease development. Cytokine expression in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid, BAL cells, and pneumonic lung parenchyma was quantitated by northern blot analysis, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), and in situ hybridization at 2, 4, 8, 16, and 24 hours after endobronchial inoculation of Pasteurella (Mannheimia) haemolytica. Expression of TNFalpha, IL-1beta, and IL-8 was significantly increased in the airways and lung lesions of infected calves as compared with mock-infected controls. Although kinetic patterns varied, peak levels of cytokine mRNA occured within 8 hours postinfection (PI), and peak cytokine concentrations occurred within 16 hours PI. In all samples, IL-8 was expressed to the greatest extent and TNFalpha was least expressed. Expression of TNFalpha was restricted to alveolar macrophages. Alveolar and interstitial macrophages produced IL-1beta and IL-8 in the first 4 hours; bronchial and bronchiolar epithelial cells were also significant sources of IL-8 during this period. By 8 hours PI, neutrophils were the dominant source of both IL-1beta and IL-8. These findings demonstrate a spatial and temporal association between pulmonary expression of inflammatory cytokines and acute lung pathology, supporting the hypothesis that cytokines contribute to inflammatory lung injury in BPP.