Particulate matter (PM) components of air pollution have been associated with mortality and health risks in susceptible populations including asthmatics. More than a decade of PM research has demonstrated that these effects do not occur indiscriminately and are related to particle size, surface area, and chemical composition. Experimental evidence in rodents indicates that inhaled or instilled diesel exhaust particles (DEPs) increase lung injury, inflammation, and allergic airway responses, and that ultra-fine carbon black (UFCB) particles cause more pulmonary inflammation than fine carbon black (FCB) particles in a dose-dependent manner. Our preliminary work determined that a dose of 100 mug of FCB, UFCB, or DEPs (NIST SRM 2975) was sufficient to enhance pulmonary inflammation in Brown Norway (BN) rats 24 hours after intratracheal (IT) instillation of the particles. In the current investigation, we sought to compare, on a mass basis, the effects of a 100 mug dose of these particles on allergic sensitization to house dust mite (HDM) antigen. Immediate airway responses (IAR) to HDM challenge and a battery of proinflammatory, allergic, and acute injury responses in the lung were then measured two and seven days post-challenge. DEPs exposure increased 8 of 10 responses including IAR and levels of IL-4, IL-13, TNFalpha, total protein, cysteinyl leukotrienes, and eosinophils in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF). UFCB and FCB significantly enhanced 4 of 10 and 2 of 10 of these responses compared to saline, respectively. Among other responses that were not statistically elevated with particle treatment, mean values for FCB were higher than for UFCB. Particles administered prior to challenge rather than prior to sensitization did not significantly enhance any of these responses above levels of saline controls. We conclude that on a mass basis, DEPs had the greatest potential to enhance allergic induction, indicating that chemical composition is more important than particle size in determining potency for this health effect.