Matrix metalloproteases (MMPs) are a group of zinc-dependent endopeptidases that can degrade every component of the extracellular matrix. Under normal circumstances, the levels of MMPs are tightly regulated at both transcriptional and posttranscriptional levels. However, they are up-regulated in pathological states such as inflammation. Previous investigations have suggested that MMP-12 (metalloelastase) may be an important mediator in the pathogenesis of chronic lung injury. In this study we investigated the role of metalloelastase in the pathogenesis of acute lung injury using mice containing a targeted disruption of the metalloelastase gene. Neutrophil influx into the alveolar space in metalloelastase-deficient animals was reduced to approximately 50% of that observed in parent strain mice following the induction of injury by immune complexes. In addition, lung permeability in metalloelastase-deficient mice was approximately 50% of that of injured parent strain animals with normal levels of metalloelastase and this was correlated with histological evidence of less lung injury in the metalloelastase-deficient animals. Collectively, the data suggest that metalloelastase is necessary for the full development of acute alveolitis in this model of lung injury. Further, the data suggest that reduced injury in metalloelastase-deficient mice is due in part to decreased neutrophil influx into the alveolar space.