Inflammatory pulmonary injury was induced in Macaca mulatta rhesus monkeys by the intrabronchial instillation of the formylated peptide norleu-leu-phe (FNLP) or phorbol myristate acetate (PMA). Indicators of pulmonary injury included an increase in mean protein content of bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid from 0.51 mg/ml in untreated animals to 3.74 mg/ml and 6.64 mg/ml in FNLP- and PMA-treated animals, respectively, the appearance of a diffuse pulmonary infiltrate in chest roentgenograms, and histologic evidence of a predominantly neutrophilic leukocytic infiltration. Concomitant with the appearance of pulmonary injury was the generation of proteases and oxidants in the BAL fluids. Neutrophil elastase, bound to alpha 1-protease inhibitor (alpha 1-PI), was found to increase from 0.47 micrograms/ml in untreated monkeys to 0.99 micrograms/ml in FNLP-treated animals and 1.23 micrograms/ml in monkeys receiving PMA. Radioiodinated human prekallikrein, instilled for 2 min into the inflammatory site and retrieved by lavaging, was found to have undergone proteolytic cleavage; this cleavage was not consistently inhibitable with the inclusion of antibody to elastase. BAL fluids were shown to contain an amidolytic activity when tested on the synthetic substrate H-D-pro-phe-arg-pNA. This activity was partially inhibitable with known inhibitors of active Hageman factor and kallikrein. beta-Glucuronidase levels in the BAL fluids increased from 0.85 U/ml to 4.36 U/ml and 8.25 U/ml in FNLP- and PMA-treated animals, respectively. Myeloperoxidase (MPO) levels also increased from 1.37 OD U/ml X min to 16.59 and 30.47 OD U/ml X min in the same groups of animals. Oxidant generation was also assessed in several different ways. The specific activity of the oxidant-sensitive inhibitor alpha 1-PI recovered in the BAL fluid decreased from 0.80 in control samples to 0.57 and 0.65 in FNLP- and PMA-treated animals. That this inactivation was due to oxidant injury of the molecule was confirmed by the return to full activity of four out of five BAL samples after their incubation with the reducing agent dithiothreitol in the presence of methionine sulfoxide peptide reductase. The specific activity of catalase in the BAL fluids of animals given 3-amino, 1,2,4 triazole (AT) 1 h before lavaging showed drops from 0.97 in untreated monkeys to 0.04 in FNLP-treated and 0.49 in PMA-treated monkeys. MPO levels also fell in the AT-treated injured animals from 16.59 to 0.85 delta OD/min X ml in FNLP animals in the absence and presence of AT, and 30.47 to 0.60 delta OD/min X ml in PMA-treated animals. Inhibition of MPO by AT was shown in vitro to be H2O2 dependent. Total glutathione levels in the BAL fluids did not change appreciably after FNLP or PMA treatment. These studies present substantial evidence of the generation of both proteases and oxidants during the establishment of acute pulmonary inflammatory injury in an experimental primate model.