To compare the effects of epidermal growth factor (EGF) and betamethasone on the morphogenesis of the gas exchange region and the differentiation of the alveolar type II cell during fetal lung development, fetal rhesus monkeys (78% gestation) were treated in utero with EGF (5.33 mg/kg total dose), beta-methasone (2.6 mg/kg total dose) or the carrier, saline (control), every other day for 7 days. EGF-treated monkeys had significantly increased body and adrenal weights. Betamethasone-treated monkeys had significantly decreased body and adrenal weights. Exogenous EGF reduced cytoplasmic glycogen and increased the cytoplasmic organelle and SP-A content within alveolar type II cells. In contrast, exogenous betamethasone did not alter alveolar type II cell cytodifferentiation. Neither EGF nor betamethasone treatment significantly altered the structure of the gas exchange region as shown by a lack of change from controls in alveolar airspace size or in the fraction of the gas exchange region that was potential airspace. We conclude that at clinically relevant doses, EGF greatly accelerates the maturation of alveolar type II cells, whereas betamethasone does not. Exogenous EGF may act directly on alveolar type II cells because these cells contain EGF receptor. Neither EGF nor betamethasone had dramatic effects on the morphogenesis of the gas exchange region.