By using the multiple-breath helium washout technique, ventilation heterogeneity (VH) after embolic injury in the lung can be quantitatively partitioned into the conductive and acinar components. Total VH, represented by the normalized slope of the phase III alveolar plateau, Sn(III (total)), was studied for 120 min in three groups of anesthetized and paralyzed mongrel dogs. Group 1 (n = 3) received only normal saline and served as controls. Group 2 (n = 4) received repeated infusions of polystyrene beads (250 microm) into the right atrium at 10, 40, 80, and 120 min. Group 3 (n = 3) was similarly treated, except that the embolic beads used were 1,000 microm in diameter. The data show that, despite repeated embolic injury by polystyrene beads of different diameters, there was no significant increase in total VH. The acinar component of Sn(III), which represents VH in the distal airways, accounts for over 90% of the total VH. The conductive component of Sn(III), which represents VH between larger conductive airways, remains relatively constant and a minor component. We conclude that pulmonary microembolism does not result in significant redistribution of ventilation.