We attempted to resolve the discrepancies in reported data on aerosol deposition from a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)-propelled metered-dose inhaler (MDI) during mechanical ventilation, obtained by in vivo and in vitro methodologies. Albuterol delivery to the lower respiratory tract was decreased in a humidified versus a dry circuit (16.2 versus 30.4%, respectively; p < 0.01). In 10 mechanically ventilated patients, 4.8% of the nominal dose was exhaled. When the exhaled aerosol was subtracted from the in vitro delivery of 16.2% achieved in a humidified ventilator circuit, the resulting value (16.2 - 4.8 = 11.4%) was similar to in vivo estimates of aerosol deposition. Having reconciled in vitro with in vivo findings, we then evaluated factors influencing aerosol delivery. A lower inspiratory flow rate (40 versus 80 L/min; p < 0.001), a longer duty cycle (0.50 versus 0.25; p < 0.04), and a shorter interval between successive MDI actuations (15 versus 60 s; p < 0.02) increased aerosol delivery, whereas use of a hydrofluoroalkane (HFA)-propelled MDI decreased aerosol delivery compared with the CFC-propelled MDI. A MDI and actuator combination other than that designed by the manufacturer altered aerosol particle size and decreased drug delivery. In conclusion, aerosol delivery in an in vitro model accurately reflects in vivo delivery, providing a means for investigating methods to improve the efficiency of aerosol therapy during mechanical ventilation.