There is conflicting evidence in the literature as to the predominant mechanism and also the compositional element(s) that drives the pulmonary inflammatory response of ambient particulate matter (PM). We have investigated the inflammogenic potential of coarse (2.5-10 microm) and fine (<2.5 microm) PM from both a rural and an industrial location in Germany, using bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) of rat lungs 18 h post intratracheal instillation with PM. Irrespective of the sampling location, the coarse fraction of PM(10) but not its fine counterpart caused neutrophilic inflammation in rat lungs, in the absence of any severe pulmonary toxicity as indicated by the lack of an increase in lavage protein and lactate dehydrogenase levels. The rural sample of coarse PM also caused a significant increase in the tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) content as well as glutathione depletion in the BAL fluid. The contrasting inflammatory responses of the different samples could not be explained by differences in the concentrations of soluble Fe, Cu, V, Ni, Cr, or Al or by the.OH generating capacities of the PM suspensions. However, the effects of the different PM samples were clearly associated with their endotoxin content, as well as their ability to induce interleukin (IL)-8 and TNFalpha from whole blood in vitro. In conclusion, on an equal mass basis, coarse but not fine PM samples from our sampling campaign induced an inflammatory reaction in the lung in the absence of gross cellular lung damage, following intratracheal instillation. Our data also indicate, in accordance with previous independent in vitro observations, that endotoxin or related contaminants may play a role in these in vivo effects.