It has been recently shown that epithelial cell monolayers of rat type II pneumocytes cultivated on tissue culture-treated polycarbonate Transwell filters are tight (> 2,000 ohm-cm2) and exhibit morphological and phenotypic characteristics of in vivo type I pneumocytes. We studied, utilizing these tight monolayers, the transepithelial transport of thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH). Either [125I]TRH or [3H]TRH was used to measure the transalveolar epithelial radiolabel fluxes across the monolayer. Radiochromatography was performed, utilizing reverse-phase HPLC techniques, to determine the presence of TRH and its subspecies in dosing, donor and receiver fluids. The apparent permeability coefficient (Papp) estimated from 125I-radiolabel fluxes was approximately 1.7 x 10(-7) cm/sec in both the apical-to-basolateral (AB) and basolateral-to-apical (BA) directions. In contrast, the Papp for 3H-radiolabels was approximately 4.2 x 10(-7) cm/sec in both directions. Radiochromatography results indicated that neither apical nor basolateral receiver fluid collected at the end of 4 h flux studies contained metabolites of [125I]TRH or [3H]TRH. In the presence of 1,000-fold excess of unlabeled TRH in the donor fluid, the Papp of neither [125I]- or [3H]-TRH in either direction was altered. These data taken together provide evidence for restricted diffusional transport of intact TRH across the rat alveolar epithelial cell monolayer, most likely via paracellular pathways. Thus, it appears that TRH delivery via pulmonary alveolar epithelium in the distal airspaces of the mammalian lung may be feasible without significant interference from peptidase activities.