Although several studies have demonstrated that the pulmonary collectins surfactant protein (SP)-A and SP-D contribute to innate immunity by enhancing pathogen phagocytosis, the role of SP-A and SP-D in regulating production of free radicals and cytokines is controversial. We hypothesized that the state and mechanism of activation of the immune cell influence its response to SP-A. The effects of SP-A and SP-D on production of nitric oxide (NO) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) were assessed in isolated rat alveolar macrophages activated with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), interferon gamma (IFN-gamma), or both agonists. SP-A inhibited production of NO and iNOS in macrophages stimulated with smooth LPS, which did not significantly bind SP-A, or rough LPS, which avidly bound SP-A. In contrast, SP-A enhanced production of NO and iNOS in cells stimulated with IFN-gamma or INF-gamma plus LPS. Neither SP-A nor SP-D affected baseline NO production, and SP-D did not significantly affect production of NO in cells stimulated with either LPS or IFN-gamma. These results suggest that SP-A contributes to the lung inflammatory response by exerting differential effects on the responses of immune cells, depending on their state and mechanism of activation.