Mucolytic treatment with rhDNase is part of the current therapy for cystic fibrosis (CF) lung disease. The Flutter valve, a device for enhancing airway mucus clearance, has recently been approved for use in CF patients. Exhalation through the Flutter valve leads to oscillations of expiratory airflow, improving mucus viscoelasticity and stimulating clearance. The goal of our in vitro study was to evaluate the individual and combined effects of Flutter valve oscillations and rhDNase treatment on the viscoelastic (rheological) properties of CF sputum. Sputum specimens were collected from 19 CF patients and subjected to the following protocols: 1) baseline sample with no treatment applied; 2) application of oscillations generated by airflow through the Flutter valve; 3) incubation at 37 degrees C for 30 min with 10% vol/wt rhDNase (Pulmozyme) to achieve a final concentration of 2.5 microg/mL (approximately 100 nM); 4) combination of Flutter valve oscillations and 10% vol/wt normal saline (0.9% NaCl); 5) combination of Flutter valve oscillations and 10% vol/wt rhDNase at 2.5 microg/mL final concentration. For each protocol, the mucus rigidity index (log G* at 1 rad/s) was measured at baseline and at 30 min. Values are presented as mean+/-SEM. The cough clearability index (CCI) was computed from measurements of mucus viscoelasticity, based on relationships established in model studies. Flutter valve treatment alone did not result in a significant reduction in the rigidity of CF sputum (2.24+/-0.13 vs. 2.11+/-0.13, P=0.19), nor did rhDNase (2.5 microg/mL) alone, although we have previously shown (Pediatr. Pulmonol. 1995; 20:78) that both of these treatments reduce sputum spinnability, which is more sensitive to molecular weight reduction. In comparison to individual treatments, combined treatment with Flutter valve oscillations and rhDNase significantly reduced the mucus rigidity to 1.85+/-0.19 from 2.24+/-0.13 (P< 0.001), consequently increasing the predicted clearability of the sputum (from 1.09+/-0.26 to 1.83+/-0.48, P=0.012). These in vitro results suggest that a combination of biochemical treatment (e.g., DNase) and mechanical oscillation may have a better therapeutic potential for mucus clearance in CF lung disease.