Bleomycin produces a dose- and time-dependent interstitial pulmonary fibrosis in humans, and is widely used to produce an animal model for the study of interstitial pulmonary fibrosis. The mechanism(s) for bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis is (are) unknown, but the production of oxygen radicals by a ferrous ion-molecular oxygen pathway might be related to the fibrosis. Therefore, we studied the effect of iron deficiency on the biochemical, inflammatory, and morphologic parameters of bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis in the hamster. Mild iron deficiency was induced in hamsters by bleeding via the retro-orbital sinus and maintenance on an iron-deplete diet. After intratracheal administration of bleomycin (1 U), there was no accumulation of lung collagen in the iron-deficient bleomycin-treated animals. In comparison, iron-replete animals treated with bleomycin exhibited a significant (p less than 0.01) increase in lung collagen. In addition, bleomycin-treated iron-replete animals had increased lung lipid peroxidation (p less than 0.05), whereas bleomycin-treated iron-deficient animals did not (p greater than 0.05). Lung DNA and morphometric estimates of the lesion severity were significantly increased in both iron-replete and iron-deficient bleomycin-treated animals. These data indicate that iron deficiency is associated with a reduction in the severity of bleomycin-induced pulmonary fibrosis, possibly by the prevention of iron-catalyzed oxygen-radical formation and lipid peroxidation.