Extracellular superoxide dismutase (EC-SOD), the only known enzymatic scavenger of extracellular superoxide, may modulate reactions of nitric oxide (NO) in the lungs by preventing reactions between superoxide and NO. The regulation of EC-SOD has not been examined in developing lungs. We hypothesize that EC-SOD plays a pivotal role in the response to increased oxygen tension and NO in the neonatal lung. This study characterizes rabbit EC-SOD and investigates the developmental regulation of EC-SOD activity, protein expression, and localization. Purified rabbit EC-SOD was found to have several unique biochemical attributes distinct from EC-SOD in other species. Rabbit lung EC-SOD contains predominantly uncleaved subunits that do not form disulfide-linked dimers. The lack of intersubunit disulfide bonds may contribute to the decreased heparin affinity and lower EC-SOD content in rabbit lung. EC-SOD activity in rabbit lungs is low before birth and increases soon after gestation. In addition, the enzyme is localized intracellularly in preterm and term rabbit lungs. Secretion of active EC-SOD into the extracellular compartment increases with age. The changes in EC-SOD localization and activity have implications for the neonatal pulmonary response to oxidative stress and the biological activity of NO at birth.