As a model of the meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS) of human infants, adult rabbits and newborn rhesus monkeys received intratracheal instillation of human meconium to induce pulmonary injury. Injured rabbits were ventilated with 100% O2 and divided into four treatment groups, receiving: 1) bronchoalveolar lavages (BAL) with dilute KL4-Surfactant; 2) lavages with equal volumes of sterile saline; 3) a single intratracheal bolus of KL4-Surfactant, 100 mg/kg; and 4) no treatment. The untreated rabbits developed atelectasis, a fall in pressure-volume levels and in partial pressure of O2 in arterial blood (PaO2) from approximately 500 to < 100 mm Hg, and severe pulmonary inflammation between 3 and 5 h after instillation of meconium. Rabbits treated by BAL with dilute KL4-Surfactant showed rapid and sustained recovery of PaO2 to approximately 300 mm Hg within minutes, a return toward normal pressure-volume levels, and diminished inflammation. Rabbits receiving BAL with saline failed to show recovery, and rabbits treated with a bolus of surfactant intratracheally exhibited a transient response by 1-2 h after treatment, but then returned to the initial atelectatic state. Newborn rhesus monkeys, after receiving human meconium intratracheally before the first breath, developed severe loss of pulmonary function. Treatment of these monkeys 1-5 h after birth with BAL with dilute KL4-Surfactant produced clearing of chest radiographs and a rapid improvement in pulmonary function with ratios of partial pressure of O2 in arterial blood to the fraction of O2 in the inspired air rising into the normal range where they remained through the 20-h period of study. The studies indicate that pulmonary function in two models of severe meconium injury respond rapidly to BAL with dilute KL4-Surfactant.