Intravenous administration of perfluorocarbon (PFC) compounds can lead to pulmonary hyperinflation and respiratory distress in some mammals. This study was designed to quantify the effects of two PFC emulsions on the dynamic behavior of lung surfactant and to demonstrate that PFC is retained in the liquid lining the lung. New Zealand White rabbits received isotonic saline (3 ml/kg), Fluosol (15 ml/kg) or Oxygent (90% perfluorooctyl-bromide emulsion, 3 ml/kg). After seven days we euthanized the animals and lavaged the lungs. Surface tension-surface area relationships (sigma-A loops) were measured with the lavage fluid placed in a Wilhelmy plate-oscillating bellows apparatus. Loop hysteresis area after Fluosol administration was 334 +/- 92 dyne-cm, significantly greater than after saline (203 +/- 36 dyne-cm) but not Oxygent (274 +/- 66 dyne-cm). Loop hysteresis slope was higher with Oxygent (0.8 +/- 0.4 dyne/cm3) than after saline (0.6 +/- 0.3 dyne/cm3) or Fluosol (0.5 +/- 0.1 dyne/cm3). 282 MHz 19F NMR spectral analysis demonstrates that both PFCs tested appear only in the extracellular fraction of the lavage fluid. These results show that pulmonary elimination of intravascular PFC leads to PFC presence in the liquid lining the airways where it alters surfactant dynamic mechanical behavior.