Acute exposure of humans to ozone results in reversible respiratory function decrements and cellular and biochemical changes leading to the production of substances which can mediate inflammation and acute lung injury. While pulmonary function decrements occur almost immediately after ozone exposure, it is not known how quickly the cellular and biochemical changes indicative of inflammation occur in humans. Increased bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid levels of neutrophils (PMNs) and prostaglandins (PGE2) have been reported in humans as early as 3 hr and as late as 18 hr after exposure. The purpose of this study was to determine whether a broad range of inflammatory mediators are elevated in BAl fluid within 1 hr of exposure. We exposed eight healthy volunteers twice: once to 0.4 ppm ozone and once to filtered air. Each exposure lasted for 2 hr during which the subjects underwent intermittent heavy exercise (66 liters/min). BAL was performed 1 hr after the exposure. Ozone induced rapid increases in PMNs, total protein, LDH, alpha-1 antitrypsin, fibronectin, PGE2, thromboxane B2, C3a, tissue factor, and clotting factor VII. In addition, there was a decrease in the recovery of total cells and alveolar macrophages, and decreased ability of alveolar macrophages to phagocytize Candida albicans. A comparison of these changes with changes observed in an earlier study in which subjects underwent BAL 18 hr after an identical exposure regimen indicates that IL-6 and PGE2 levels were higher 1 hr after exposure than 18 hr after exposure, fibronectin and tissue-plasminogen activator levels were higher 18 hr after exposure, and that PMNs, protein, and C3a were present at essentially the same levels at both times. These results indicate that (i) several inflammatory mediators are already elevated 1 hr after exposure; (ii) some mediators achieve their maximal levels in BAL fluid at different times following exposure. These data suggest that the inflammatory response is complex, depending on a cascade of timed events, and that depending on the mediator of interest one must choose an appropriate sampling time.