The antioxidant enzyme extracellular superoxide dismutase (EC-SOD) is highly expressed in the extracellular matrix of lung tissue and is believed to protect the lung from oxidative damage that results in diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis. This study tests the hypothesis that proteolytic removal of the heparin-binding domain of EC-SOD results in clearance of the enzyme from the extracellular matrix of pulmonary tissues and leads to a loss of antioxidant protection. Using a polyclonal antibody to mouse EC-SOD, the immunodistribution of EC-SOD in normal and bleomycin-injured lungs was examined. EC-SOD labeling was strong in the matrix of vessels, airways, and alveolar surfaces and septa in control lungs. At 2 d post-treatment, a slight increase in EC-SOD staining was evident. In contrast, lungs examined 4 or 7 d post-treatment, showed an apparent loss of EC-SOD from the matrix and surface of alveolar septa. Notably, at 7 d post-treatment, the truncated form of EC-SOD was found in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of bleomycin-treated mice, suggesting that EC-SOD is being removed from the extracellular matrix through proteolysis. However, loss of EC-SOD through proteolysis did not correlate with a decrease in overall pulmonary EC-SOD activity. The negligible effect on EC-SOD activity may reflect the large influx of intensely staining inflammatory cells at day 7. These results indicate that injuries leading to pulmonary fibrosis have a significant effect on EC-SOD distribution due to proteolytic removal of the heparin-binding domain and may be important in enhancing pulmonary injuries by altering the oxidant/antioxidant balance in alveolar interstitial spaces.