The effect of alpha 1-proteinase inhibitor (alpha 1Pi) administration on the acute lung injury and subsequent fibrosis induced by bleomycin (BLM) was examined in hamsters. Pulmonary lesions were quantitatively reduced in alpha 1Pi-administered BLM-treated (BLM-alpha 1Pi) animals compared with animals treated by BLM alone (BLM-control) at both 7 days (acute stage) and 30 days (fibrotic stage) after BLM treatment. Analysis of intraalveolar cells from bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid revealed that neutrophils and lymphocytes were significantly decreased in the BLM-alpha 1Pi animals at 7 days after BLM treatment and that 30 days after BLM treatment macrophages as well as neutrophils and lymphocytes were remarkably decreased in the BLM-alpha 1Pi animals. The elastase activity in supernatants of BAL fluid during 7 days following BLM treatment was detected, but there was no difference between the two groups. In vitro studies on neutrophil responsiveness to stimulation of BAL fluid at 3 days after BLM treatment revealed noticeable chemotaxis and generation of superoxide anion of isolated neutrophils, but alpha 1Pi did not show any inhibitory effects on neutrophil responsiveness. We suggest that alpha 1Pi administration ameliorates pulmonary fibrosis preceded by acute lung injury induced by BLM treatment in hamsters and that the inhibitory effects of alpha 1Pi on lung injury may not be brought about by altered elastase activity, chemotaxis, or superoxide generation in neutrophils. Alternative mechanisms are discussed.