A possible causal relationship has been suggested between hydrocarbon (gasoline, solvents, etc.) exposure and development of anti-basement membrane antibody-associated Goodpasture's syndrome in man. The authors evaluated the effect of hydrocarbons on pulmonary capillary permeability and binding of heterologous anti-basement membrane antibodies in the lungs after intratracheal instillation of minute amounts of unleaded gasoline into rabbits. The anti-glomerular basement membrane (GBM) antibodies used reacted with the alveolar basement membrane (ABM) in vitro by indirect immunofluorescence. The gasoline treatment altered pulmonary capillary permeability, judging from the increased accumulation of systemically administered radioiodinated bovine serum albumin in the alveolar and extravascular spaces of lungs; it also induced focal macroscopic and microscopic pulmonary histologic lesions. The gasoline caused focal in vivo binding of the anti-GBM antibodies to the ABM detectable by immunofluorescence microscopy. No binding was observed in lungs from control rabbits given saline instillations when assayed by immunofluorescence. The paired label radioisotope technique confirmed the increased antibody binding to lungs injured with gasoline (1.08 +/- 0.03 micrograms) versus 0.37 +/- 0.07 microgram after saline (P less than 0.001). These results indicate that gasoline exposure damages a pulmonary barrier that normally prevents binding of anti-GBM/ABM antibody to ABM and suggest that hydrocarbon exposure may be one of perhaps several pneumotoxic events that contribute to the episodic pulmonary hemorrhage in Goodpasture's syndrome by temporarily allowing ABM binding of anti-basement membrane antibodies.