The biological activity of mainstream smoke from an electrically heated cigarette (EHC) with controlled combustion and from the University of Kentucky Reference Cigarette 1R4F was determined in Sprague Dawley rats exposed nose-only for 90 days, 6 h a day, 7 days per week. For an equivalent response comparison between the two cigarette types, two doses were chosen for the EHC where the anticipated results were in the dynamic range of the 1R4F dose-response curve (four concentrations) for most end points. The number of cigarettes smoked per m(3) of diluted smoke resulted in total particulate matter concentrations of 40 and 90 microg l (-1) for the EHC and 40-170 microg l (-1) for the 1R4F. Biomonitoring indicated achievement of target doses. Mainstream smoke yields were lower for the EHC, with the exception of formaldehyde. No smoke-related mortality, remarkable in-life observations or abnormal gross pathological findings were observed. Smoke- and dose-related clinical pathology and organ weight changes included: increases in segmented neutrophils, some liver parameters and lung and adrenal weight relative to body weight; and decreases in lymphocytes, glucose concentration and spleen weight. Smoke-related histopathological findings in the respiratory tract included epithelial cell hyperplasia, squamous metaplasia, atrophy and accumulation of pigmented alveolar macrophages; they were mostly dose-dependent, more pronounced in the upper than lower respiratory tract and completely or partially reversed by 6 weeks post-inhalation. Qualitatively, the biological effects seen for the EHC and the 1R4F were comparable and similar to those observed in other mainstream smoke inhalation studies. Quantitatively, the biological activity of the EHC mainstream smoke was, on average, 65% lower than that of the 1R4F mainstream smoke on an equal cigarette basis and equivalent activity on an equal TPM basis.