The goal of this study was to evaluate the permeability characteristics of Calu-3, human bronchial epithelial cells to passive and actively transported drugs and to correlate the data with other in vitro models and rat lung absorption in vivo. Air-interface cultured Calu-3 cells grown on collagen-coated permeable filter supports formed "tight" polarized and well differentiated cell monolayers with apical microvilli and tight-junctional complexes. Within 8-10 days, cell monolayers developed trans-epithelial electrical resistance (TEER) > 1000 ohm cm2 and potential difference about 11-16 mV. Solute permeability was dependent on lipophilicity, and inversely related to molecular size. Calu-3 cells actively transported amino acids, nucleosides and dipeptide analogs, but not organic anions, organic cations or efflux pump substrates. The permeability characteristics of Calu-3 cells correlated well with primary cultured rabbit tracheal epithelial cells in vitro (r2 = 0.91), and the rate of drug absorption from the rat lung in vivo (r2 = 0.94). The absorption predicted from the regression equation correlated well with observed values. In conclusion, in vitro-in vivo correlation studies indicate that the Calu-3 cell culture model is a potentially useful model to predict absorption of inhalation delivery drug candidates.