The deposition of excess or abnormal collagen characteristic of pulmonary fibrosis can disrupt gas exchange resulting in severe respiratory impairment. There currently are no effective pharmacologic agents available that inhibit the fibrotic process. Pirfenidone (5-methyl-1-phenyl-2-(1H)-pyridone) is an investigational drug that, when administered at 0.5% (w/w) of the diet, decreases both histologic and biochemical evidence of lung fibrosis in hamsters treated intratracheally with bleomycin. The effectiveness of pirfenidone against lung fibrosis initiated by a systemically administered agent was investigated in mice treated intraperitoneally with 200 mg/kg cyclophosphamide (CP). Control and treated animals were fed a diet containing 0.277% (w/w) pirfenidone beginning 1 day after CP. Despite anorexia in the CP-treated mice the first day after treatment, they ingested a greater average pirfenidone dose over 20 days than saline-treated control mice (717 +/- 44 versus 564 +/- 30 mg/kg per day, respectively). Total lung hydroxyproline content, an index of fibrosis, was significantly lower 21 days after treatment with CP plus pirfenidone as compared to mice treated with CP alone. Although microscopic lung fibrosis scores were not significantly decreased by pirfenidone in CP-treated mice, the overall incidence of fibrosis was significantly decreased. Histologically, mice treated with CP showed fibrosis while mice treated with CP plus pirfenidone exhibited fewer abnormalities. The rate of hydroxyproline synthesis by lung tissue 9 days after treatment with CP was significantly elevated. This rate was not affected by pirfenidone treatment. Overall, these data support an antifibrotic effect of pirfenidone against CP-induced lung fibrosis in mice. The mechanism of its effect is not known, but appears to be unrelated to an inhibition of collagen synthesis.