Background: Results from epidemiological studies indicate that particulate air pollution constitutes a hazard for human health. Recent studies suggest that diesel exhaust possesses endocrine activity and therefore may affect reproductive outcome. This study in mice aimed to investigate whether exposure to diesel exhaust particles (DEP; NIST 2975) would affect gestation, postnatal development, activity, learning and memory, and biomarkers of transplacental toxicity. Pregnant mice (C57BL/6; BomTac) were exposed to 19 mg/m(3) DEP (similar to 1.10(6) particles/cm(3); mass median diameter congruent to 240 nm) on gestational days 9-19, for 1 h/day. Results: Gestational parameters were similar in control and diesel groups. Shortly after birth, body weights of DEP offspring were slightly lower than in controls. This difference increased during lactation, so by weaning the DEP exposed offspring weighed significantly less than the control progeny. Only slight effects of exposure were observed on cognitive function in female DEP offspring and on biomarkers of exposure to particles or genotoxic substances. Conclusion: In utero exposure to DEP decreased weight gain during lactation. Cognitive function and levels of biomarkers of exposure to particles or to genotoxic substances were generally similar in exposed and control offspring. The particle size and chemical composition of the DEP and differences in exposure methods (fresh, whole exhaust versus aged, resuspended DEP) may play a significant role on the biological effects observed in this compared to other studies.