We studied the in vivo mechanism of beta-adrenergic receptor (beta-AR) hyporesponsiveness induced by intratracheal instillation of interleukin-1beta (IL-1beta, 500 U) in Brown-Norway rats. Tracheal and bronchial smooth muscle responses were measured under isometric conditions ex vivo. Contractile responses to electrical field stimulation and to carbachol were not altered, but maximal relaxation induced by isoproterenol (10(-6)-10(-5) M) was significantly reduced 24 h after IL-1beta treatment in tracheal tissues and to a lesser extent, in the main bronchi. Radioligand binding using [125I]iodocyanopindolol revealed a 32+/-7% reduction in beta-ARs in lung tissues from IL-1beta-treated rats, without any significant changes in beta2-AR mRNA level measured by Northern blot analysis. Autoradiographic studies also showed significant reduction in beta2-AR in the airways. Isoproterenol-stimulated cyclic AMP accumulation was reduced by IL-1beta at 24 h in trachea and lung tissues. Pertussis toxin reversed this hyporesponsiveness to isoproterenol but not to forskolin in lung tissues. Western blot analysis revealed an IL-1beta-induced increase in Gi(alpha) protein expression. Thus, IL-1beta induces an attenuation of beta-AR-induced airway relaxation through mechanisms involving a reduction in beta-ARs, an increase in Gi(alpha) subunit, and a defect in adenylyl cyclase activity.