Lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is a mediator of inflammatory lung injury. Selective augmentation of host defense molecules such as elafin (an elastase inhibitor with antimicrobial activity) at the onset of pulmonary inflammation is an attractive potential therapeutic strategy. The aim of this study was to determine whether elafin expression could be induced by LPS administered after transfection with adenovirus (Ad) encoding human elafin downstream of the murine cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter (known to be potentially responsive to LPS). In addition, we aimed to determine the effect of local elafin augmentation on neutrophil migration to the lung. LPS significantly up-regulated elafin expression from pulmonary epithelial cells transfected with Ad-elafin in vitro. In murine airways expression of human elafin was achieved using doses low enough (3 x 10(7) plaque forming units) to circumvent overt vector-induced inflammation. LPS significantly up-regulated human elafin secretion in murine airways treated with Ad-elafin [117 ng/ml in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF) after LPS administration, 5.9 ng/ml after PBS, p < 0.01)]. Over-expression of elafin significantly augmented LPS-mediated neutrophil migration into the airways in vivo (1.30 x 10(6) neutrophils in BALF after Ad-elafin/LPS treatment, 0.54 x 10(6) after Ad-lacZ/LPS (p < 0.05), 0.63 x 10(6) after PBS/LPS (p < 0.05)) and significantly enhanced human neutrophil migration in vitro. These data suggest novel functions for elafin in neutrophil migration, and that judicious selection of promoters may allow single, low-dose adenoviral administration to effect inflammation-specific expression of potentially therapeutic transgenes.