The lung is continuously exposed to inhaled pollutants, microbes and allergens. Therefore, the pulmonary immune system has to defend against harmful pathogens, while an inappropriate inflammatory response to harmless particles must be avoided. In the bronchoalveolar space this critical balance is maintained by innate immune proteins, termed surfactant proteins. Among these, surfactant protein D (SP-D) plays a central role in the pulmonary host defence and the modulation of allergic responses. Several human lung diseases are characterized by decreased levels of bronchoalveolar SP-D. Thus, recombinant SP-D has been proposed as a therapeutical option for cystic fibrosis, neonatal lung disease and smoking-induced emphysema. Furthermore, SP-D serum levels can be used as disease activity markers for interstitial lung diseases. This review illustrates the emerging role of SP-D translated from in vitro studies to human lung diseases.