The acute respiratory effects of airborne exposure to methacrolein were studied in a recent refinement of the standard test method with mice (ASTM, 1984. American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia). Irritation of the upper respiratory tract caused a concentration-dependent decrease in the respiratory rate of 2-26 ppm methacrolein. In this range, only a minor airflow limitation occurred in the lower respiratory tract, suggesting that the main effect of methacrolein is sensory irritation. During exposure, the sensory irritation response maintained the same level, i.e. no desensitisation occurred. The concentration 10.4 ppm methacrolein reduced the respiratory rate by 50% (RD50). The extrapolated threshold for the respiratory depressing effect, RD0, was 1.3 ppm. The sensory irritation effect of methacrolein was compared with results from closely related compounds in order to elucidate the mechanism of the interaction between methacrolein and the sensory irritant receptor.