Chronic or prolonged low-intensity loading of the inspiratory muscles has recently been shown to produce diaphragm injury. The present study was designed to examine whether an acute episode of inspiratory resistive loading (IRL) could produce secondary diaphragm inflammation and injury. On Day 1, three groups of anesthetized and intubated New Zealand White rabbits were subjected to moderate IRL (Pao of approximately 30 cm H2O), high IRL (Pao of approximately 45 cm H2O), or no load for 1.5 h. On Day 3, costal and crural diaphragms, parasternals, and gastrocnemius muscles were taken to assess injury by point counting. Normal muscle, abnormal and inflamed muscle, and connective tissue on hematoxylin and eosin-stained cross-sections were expressed as percentage of the total points for that cross-section. For the costal diaphragm, both the abnormal muscle (7.3 +/- 0.6% versus 1.1 +/- 0.2%; p < 0.001) and connective tissue (8.0 +/- 0.6% versus 5.7 +/- 0.2%; p < 0.01) in the high IRL group were higher than control, whereas in the moderate IRL group they were not significantly different from control. Total calpain-like activity was increased in the moderate IRL group but not in the high IRL group. Injury was observed in the parasternal muscles but to a lesser extent. No injury was observed in the gastrocnemius muscle. We conclude that secondary diaphragm injury occurs after acute IRL but only when the IRL exceeds the fatigue threshold.