To model the airway glandular defect in cystic fibrosis (CF), the effect of anion secretion blockers on submucosal gland mucus secretion was investigated. Porcine distal bronchi were isolated, pretreated with a Cl- secretion blocker (bumetanide) and/or a combination of blockers to inhibit HCO3- secretion (dimethylamiloride, acetazolamide, and 4,4'-diisothiocyanostilbene-2,2'-disulfonic acid), and then treated with acetylcholine (ACh), a glandular liquid and mucus secretagogue. Bronchi were then fixed, sectioned, and stained for mucins. Each gland duct was ranked for mucin content from zero (no mucin) to five (duct completely occluded with mucin). Untreated bronchi, bronchi treated only with ACh, and ACh-treated bronchi that received either bumetanide or the HCO3- secretion blockers all exhibited low gland duct mucin content (1.18 +/- 0.34, 0.59 +/- 0.07, 0.65 +/- 0.03, and 0.83 +/- 0.11, respectively). However, pretreatment with both Cl- and HCO3- secretion blockers before ACh addition resulted in substantial and significant ductal mucus accumulation (3.57 +/- 0.22). In situ videomicroscopy studies of intact airways confirmed these results. Thus inhibition of the anion (and presumably liquid) secretion response to ACh leads to mucus obstruction of submucosal gland ducts that resembles the early pathological changes observed in CF.