Inhalation exposure to fluoride compounds has been associated with respiratory failure. We have addressed effects of fluoride on alveolar macrophages and lung responses to intratracheally (i.t.) instilled fluoride in rats. I.t. instillation of fluoride at doses of 200 and 400 microg F/rat caused significant polymorphonuclear leukocyte (PMN) infiltration in the rat lung at 20 h post-administration, while 100 microg fluoride did not recruit a significant number of PMNs in the alveolar space. Total RNA was extracted from the lung lavage cells obtained from 5 h post i.t. instillation and mRNA levels of chemokines and proinflammatory cytokines were semi-quantitatively evaluated by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). I.t. instillation of fluoride significantly enhanced mRNA expression of cytokines such as interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta), tumor necrosis factor-alpha, cytokine-induced neutrophil chemoattractant, and macrophage inflammatory proteins-1alpha and -2. Fluoride-induced augmentation in IL-1beta mRNA expression was also examined by Northern hybridization following in vitro exposure of alveolar macrophages to fluoride. However, the enhancement of IL-1beta mRNA expression following in vitro exposure to fluoride was observed only at 500 microM, a dose higher than the 50% lethal concentration (LC(50)). Non-specific adhesion of alveolar macrophages to the plastic dish was significantly increased following in vitro exposure to fluoride. The fluoride-induced non-specific adhesion was significantly reduced by anti-CD18, suggesting that beta(2) integrin played a role in the increase of adherence. Those results suggest that fluoride activates alveolar macrophages, enhances the production of chemokines and proinflammatory cytokines, and causes PMN infiltration in the lung.