Post-transplant bronchiolitis obliterans (BO) is characterized by fibroproliferation and fibrous obliteration of distal airways in chronically rejected lungs. In this study, using a rat heterotopic allogeneic tracheal transplant model of BO, we evaluated the expression of transforming growth factor-beta (TGFbeta) during the development of airway fibrous obliteration. Immunohistochemical analysis revealed TGFbeta staining in infiltrating mononuclear cells at Days 2 and 7, and in the fibrous tissues until Day 21. Soluble TGFbeta receptor type III (TGFBIIIR), by blocking TGFbeta binding to its membrane receptors, functions as a TGFbeta antagonist. To study the role of TGFbeta in the development of BO, adenoviral-mediated soluble TGFBIIIR gene transfection (5 x 10(9) particles) was performed topically at the site of transplant on Day 5 after transplantation, which leads to inhibition of fibrous airway obliteration. In contrast, empty vector gene delivered through intramuscular injection, or given locally at Days 0 or 10 after tracheal transplantation had no significant effect. These results suggest that TGFbeta expressed in the allografts plays a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of BO. Soluble TGFBIIIR may competitively inhibit TGFbeta activity locally. Adenoviral-mediated soluble TGFBIIIR gene transfection should be further explored as a potential therapeutic modality for BO and other conditions involving chronic fibrosis.