Selective Clara cell injury produced by many bioactivated lung toxicants is thought to result from high levels of activating enzymes found in differentiated Clara cells. A recent study found an elevated susceptibility to the Clara cell toxicant 4-ipomeanol in neonatal rabbits when Clara cell P450 activity is low. To determine whether differentiating Clara cells in another species (mouse) are more susceptible to injury by a different bioactivated Clara cell toxicant (naphthalene), adult, 14-day postnatal (DPN) and 7DPN male mice were given a single intraperitoneal dose (25, 50, or 100 mg/kg) of naphthalene and killed 24 hr later. Epithelial damage, as assessed by quantitative histopathology, included cellular swelling, vacuolization, and exfoliation. In 7DPN mice, bronchiolar epithelium was severely injured at the lowest dose of naphthalene tested, 25 mg/kg. Bronchiolar epithelium in 14DPN mice was moderately injured at 25 mg/kg; injury severity was greatest at 50 and 100 mg/kg. Minimal bronchiolar epithelial injury occurred in adult mice at 50 mg/kg and moderate injury at 100 mg/kg. In proximal bronchi, epithelium of 7DPN mice showed signs of injury only at 100 mg/kg. Bronchial epithelium of adult mice was not injured at any dose. Isolated distal airways from 7DPN and 14DPN mice were more sensitive to naphthalene exposure than isolated distal airways from adult mice. Despite the low levels of P450 activity, differentiating Clara cells in neonatal mice are more susceptible to injury by the bioactivated cytotoxicant naphthalene than are differentiated Clara cells in adult mice.