Over a quarter of the U.S. population is exposed to harmful levels of airborne particulate matter (PM) pollution, which has been linked to development and exacerbation of respiratory diseases leading to morbidity and mortality, especially in susceptible populations. Young children are especially susceptible to PM and can experience altered anatomic, physiologic, and biological responses. Current studies of ambient PM are confounded by the complex mixture of soot, metals, allergens, and organics present in the complex mixture as well as seasonal and temporal variance. We have developed a laboratory-based PM devoid of metals and allergens that can be replicated to study health effects of specific PM components in animal models. We exposed 7-day-old postnatal and adult rats to a single 6-h exposure of fuel-rich ultrafine premixed flame particles (PFPs) or filtered air. These particles are high in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons content. Pulmonary cytotoxicity, gene, and protein expression were evaluated at 2 and 24 h postexposure. Neonates were more susceptible to PFP, exhibiting increased lactate dehydrogenase activity in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and ethidium homodimer-1 cellular staining in the lung in situ as an index of cytotoxicity. Basal gene expression between neonates and adults differed for a significant number of antioxidant, oxidative stress, and proliferation genes and was further altered by PFP exposure. PFP diminishes proliferation marker PCNA gene and protein expression in neonates but not adults. We conclude that neonates have an impaired ability to respond to environmental exposures that increases lung cytotoxicity and results in enhanced susceptibility to PFP, which may lead to abnormal airway growth. © The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society of Toxicology. All rights reserved.