Acute lung injury (ALI) is characterized by increased lung levels of proinflammatory cytokines, inflammation, oxidative stress, edema, and impaired gas exchange. Notably, ALI patients also exhibit pulmonary surfactant abnormalities, including increased levels of phospholipids in their lung lavages. In the present study, to assess early alterations of the lung surfactant system in ALI, we induced inflammation and acute lung injury in rats by administering interleukin-1alpha (IL-1) intratracheally. Five h after IL-1 instillation, we examined lung tissue ultrastructure by electron microscopy using both routine staining methods and cerium chloride staining to localize hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) histologically. We also measured lung lavage phospholipid levels, lung tissue gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) activities (a marker of oxidative stress), and arterial blood oxygen tensions. We observed that lungs of rats given IL-1 intratracheally had increased neutrophil accumulation, increased H2O2 production, and increased alveolar type II (ATII) pneumocyte ultrastructural abnormalities compared to rats given saline intratracheally. Intratracheal instillation of IL-1 also increased phospholipid levels in the bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), possibly as a consequence of the abnormal discharge of lamellar bodies into the alveolar lumen. In addition, IL-1-insuffated rats had increased lung GGT levels and impaired blood oxygenation compared to saline-insufflated rats. Treatment with mepacrine decreased lung neutrophil accumulation, ultrastructural lung abnormalities, lung lavage phospholipid levels, lung tissue GGT levels, and blood oxygenation impairment in rats given IL-1 intratracheally, suggesting a possible relationship between these events. Our results indicate that IL-1-induced acute lung injury in rats is marked by neutrophil-dependent oxidative stress, ATII cell defects, abnormal discharge of lamellar body phospholipids, and impaired blood oxygenation.