Data from laboratory animal experiments are often used in setting guidelines for safe levels of human exposure to inhaled materials. The F344 rat has been used extensively in laboratory experiments to determine effects of exposure to inhaled materials in the nasal passages. Many inhaled materials induce toxic responses in the olfactory (posterior) region of the rat nasal passages. The location of major airflow routes has been proposed as playing a dominant role in determining some olfactory lesion location patterns. Since nasal airflow patterns differ significantly among species, methods are needed to assess conditions under which these differences may significantly affect extrapolation of the effects of local dose in animals to potential disease outcome in humans. A computational fluid dynamics model of airflow and inhaled gas uptake has been used to predict dose to airway walls in the anterior F344 rat nasal passages (Kimbell et al., Toxicol. Appl. Pharmacol., 1993; 121, 253-263). To determine the role of nasal airflow patterns in affecting olfactory lesion distribution, this model was extended to include the olfactory region. Serial-step histological sections of the nasal passages of a F344 rat were used to construct the computer model. Simulations of inspiratory airflow throughout the rat nasal passages were consistent with previously reported experimental data. Four of the five major simulated flow streams present in the anterior nose (dorsal lateral, middle, ventral lateral, and ventral medial streams) flowed together to exit ventrally at the nasopharyngeal duct, bypassing the ethmoid recesses. The remaining dorsal medial stream split to flow both medially and laterally through the olfactory-epithelium-lined ethmoid recesses in a Z-shaped pattern when viewed sagitally. Simulated flow in the ethmoid recesses was more than an order of magnitude slower than flow in the anterior and ventral parts of the nasal passages. Somewhat higher volumes of flow were predicted in the dorsal medial stream when the nasal vestibule was reshaped to be upturned, and more flow was allocated to the dorsal medial stream with increased inspiratory airflow rate, suggesting that rats may be able to allocate more airflow to this stream by both modifying the shape of the nasal vestibule and increasing inhaled air velocity during sniffing. The present study provides the first description of flow in the complex olfactory region of the nose of the F344 rat. This model will be used to evaluate the role of airflow patterns in determining the distribution of xenobiotically induced olfactory mucosal lesions. This information, combined with models of disposition in the airway lining, will provide comprehensive dosimetry models for extrapolating animal response data to humans.