Ozone is an oxidant gas that can directly induce lung injury. Knowledge of the initial molecular events of the acute O3 response would be useful in developing biomarkers of exposure or response. Toward this goal, we exposed rats to toxic concentrations of O3 (2 and 5 ppm) for 2 hr and the molecular changes were assessed in lung tissue 2 hr postexposure using a rat cDNA expression array containing 588 characterized genes. Gene array analysis indicated differential expression in almost equal numbers of genes for the two exposure groups: 62 at 2 ppm and 57 at 5 ppm. Most of these genes were common to both exposure groups, suggesting common roles in the initial toxicity response. However, we also identified the induction of nine genes specific to 2-ppm (thyroid hormone-beta receptor c-erb-A-beta; and glutathione reductase) or 5-ppm exposure groups (c-jun, induced nitric oxide synthase, macrophage inflammatory protein-2, and heat shock protein 27). Injury markers in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) were used to assess immediate toxicity and inflammation in rats similarly exposed. At 2 ppm, injury was marked by significant increases in BALF total protein, N-acetylglucosaminidase, and lavageable ciliated cells. Because infiltration of neutrophils was observed only at the higher 5 ppm concentration, the distinctive genes suggested a potential amplification role for inflammation in the gene profile. Although the specific gene interactions remain unclear, this is the first report indicating a dose-dependent direct and immediate induction of gene expression that may be separate from those genes involved in inflammation after acute O3 exposure.