We induced beta-adrenergic receptor blockade at 28 days gestation in the fetal rabbit with an irreversible beta-antagonist, bromace-tylalprenolomenthane (BrAlp). There was a marked decrease in concentration of available receptors in lung with increasing doses of BrAlp. BrAlp treatment decreased isoproterenol, but not prostaglandin, stimulated adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP) generation in lung minces, and had no effect on activation of adenylate cyclase through non-beta-receptor-mediated components of the cyclase system in particulate preparations. Phospholipid recovery via lung lavage was significantly less from treated fetuses than from controls in groups delivered by cesarean section at 30 days (-31%) or vaginally at 31 days (-34%) and not allowed to air breathe. However, if fetuses from either group were allowed to air breathe, the difference was abolished. BrAlp treatment did not affect the phospholipid composition in lavage fluid, the rate of phosphatidylcholine synthesis, or tissue content of total or saturated phosphatidylcholine. Beta-adrenergic receptor blockade did not produce a significant change in lung water content either at or after birth regardless of the route of delivery. These data indicate that endogenous catecholamines play a role in surfactant secretion in both the fetal and newborn rabbit. We found no effects of BrAlp treatment on lung water, suggesting perhaps a less important role of endogenous catecholamines or that fewer receptors are required for this response than remained after treatment.