OBJECTIVE: Formaldehyde exposure during the menstrual cycle is known to affect the course of allergic lung inflammation. Because our previous data demonstrated that formaldehyde combined with an ovariectomy reduced allergic lung inflammation, we investigated the putative role of ovary removal and progesterone treatment when considering the effect of formaldehyde on allergic lung inflammation. METHOD: Ovariectomized rats and their matched controls were exposed to formaldehyde (1%, 3 days, 90 min/day) or vehicle, and immediately after exposure, the rats were sensitized to ovalbumin by a subcutaneous route. After 1 week, the rats received a booster by the same route, and after an additional week, the rats were challenged with ovalbumin (1%) by an aerosol route. The leukocyte numbers, interleukin-10 (IL-10) release, myeloperoxidase activity, vascular permeability, ex vivo tracheal reactivity to methacholine and mast cell degranulation were determined 24 h later. RESULTS: Our results showed that previous exposure to formaldehyde in allergic rats decreased lung cell recruitment, tracheal reactivity, myeloperoxidase activity, vascular permeability and mast cell degranulation while increasing IL-10 levels. Ovariectomy only caused an additional reduction in tracheal reactivity without changing the other parameters studied. Progesterone treatment reversed the effects of formaldehyde exposure on ex vivo tracheal reactivity, cell influx into the lungs and mast cell degranulation. CONCLUSION: In conclusion, our study revealed that formaldehyde and ovariectomy downregulated allergic lung inflammation by IL-10 release and mast cell degranulation. Progesterone treatment increased eosinophil recruitment and mast cell degranulation, which in turn may be responsible for tracheal hyperreactivity and allergic lung inflammation.