The progression of structural changes in the pulmonary arterial bed were followed in a model of chronic pulmonary hypertension. Chronically instrumented awake sheep received continuous air embolization for 0 (controls), 1, 4, 8, or 12 days (n = 5-6/group). After the period of embolization, the lungs were removed, the pulmonary arteries were distended with barium-gelatin, and the lungs were fixed via the airways with formal-saline. Quantitative techniques were applied to sections from random blocks from the lungs of each animal. One day of embolization resulted in granulocyte sequestration in the lung interstitium and in small vessels; additionally, intraalveolar and perivascular edema was present. By 4 days, increased medial thickness, appearance of muscle in smaller arteries than normal (e.g., muscular arteries at alveolar duct level: control = 1.2 +/- 1.2%; day 4 = 22.7 +/- 7.7) and reduction in number of barium-filled intraacinar arteries was found. The arterial changes progressed in severity to day 8 and were similar at day 12. Since arterial remodelling involves increased elastin deposition, the concentration of elastin peptides was measured in lung lymph. Increased flux of elastin peptides was apparent from day 2 of embolization and continued to increase to a level 20 x baseline by day 12 (baseline 351 +/- 86 micrograms/15 min; day 12 = 6338 +/- 2999). Comparison of the onset of the structural changes with previous findings shows that the arterial remodelling parallels the onset of sustained pulmonary hypertension. The increase in lung-lymph elastin peptides by day 2 provides evidence that vascular remodelling is initiated before day 4 of embolization. The early sequestration of granulocytes and appearance of edema suggest that these may be part of the trigger to the development of the structural changes.