Respiratory epithelial clearance of 99mTc-DTPA (RC-Tc-DTPA) and pulmonary function tests (PFT) were determined at intervals of 6 or 12 months in 37 untreated, nonsmoking patients with sarcoidosis over a period of 6 to 36 months. PFT included the measurements of total lung capacity (TLC), vital capacity (VC), FEV1, and diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide. No difference was found between the respiratory clearance of 113mIn-DTPA (2.25 +/- 1.00%/min) and RC-Tc-DTPA (2.29 +/- 1.11%/min) in eight patients with pulmonary sarcoidosis. Pulmonary function decreased 15% or more in at least 2 function tests during 11 follow-up periods, but it remained stable during 47 follow-up periods. In patients whose lung function deteriorated, RC-Tc-DTPA increased to 3.51 +/- 1.55%/min; in contrast, in patients whose lung function remained stable, regardless of the initial values, RC-Tc-DTPA was normal (1.00 +/- 0.50%/min; p less than 0.001). In eight patients who were treated with corticosteroids, RC-Tc-DTPA decreased from 3.48 +/- 1.31%/min to 1.56 +/- 0.64%/min (p less than 0.001), and PFT improved. We conclude that in nonsmokers with pulmonary sarcoidosis, increased RC-Tc-DTPA is not related to dissociation of 99mTc from DTPA, RC-Tc-DTPA is increased when pulmonary function decreases, and, when increased, RC-Tc-DTPA decreases with corticosteroid therapy.