To study the penetration of alpha 1-proteinase inhibitor (A1Pl) into the lungs of healthy dogs, 83 mg/kg of active A1Pl was administered intravenously over 30 min followed by a bolus of 131I-A1Pl. Animals were lavaged 2 to 72 h after infusion, sequential gamma camera scans were acquired, and urine was analyzed for the excretion of desmosine. After a distribution phase, infused A1Pl left the bloodstream with a half-life of 103 +/- 24 h. Analysis of plasma antiprotease activity demonstrated preservation of function of the infused A1Pl. Lavage fluid A1Pl concentration and activity were significantly increased 24 h after infusion. Gamma camera scans demonstrated that lung, liver, and spleen acquired 131I-A1Pl similarly; radioactivities per gram of tissue of these organs were similar at autopsy. Excretion of desmosine did not decrease from a baseline of 157 +/- 59 nmol/24 h after A1Pl infusion, indicating no effect of A1Pl infusion on background elastolysis. These data suggest that intravenous administration of A1Pl can raise lung antiproteinase levels within 24 h despite the absence of preferential uptake by the lung of the infused protein.