Pseudomonas pneumonia is a common complication of smoke inhalation injury. Airway casts formed from clotted mucous occur frequently in this condition. A recent report shows that intravenous heparin improves oxygenation and reduces lung damage in a sheep model of smoke inhalation. We hypothesized that nebulized heparin could be an effective means of reducing cast formation. Female sheep (n = 19) were surgically prepared for a study of acute lung injury (ALI). After a tracheotomy, 48 breaths of cotton smoke (<40 degrees C) were inflated into the airway. Afterwards, live Pseudomonas aeruginosa (5 x 10(11) CFU) was instilled into the lung. All sheep were mechanically ventilated with 100% O2 and were divided into four groups: a heparin-nebulized group (n = 5; animals received aerosolized heparin [10,000 I.U.] 1 h after the bacterial instillation and subsequently every 4 h thereafter), an intravenous heparin group (n = 5,300 U/kg/23 h, infusion was started 1 h after the injury), a saline-nebulization group (n = 5; animals received inhaled nebulized saline), and a sham injury group (n = 4, treated in the same fashion, but no injury). The animals were sacrificed after 24 h of mechanical ventilation, and lung samples were harvested. Sheep exposed to lung injury presented with typical hyperdynamic cardiovascular changes and a corresponding drop in PaO2. These changes were significantly attenuated in the heparin groups. Histological changes consisting of cellular infiltrates, lung edema, congestion, and cast formation were reduced by heparin. These data suggest that nebulized inhaled heparin is a beneficial therapy for sepsis-induced ALI.