Although lung-protective ventilation strategies have substantially reduced mortality of acute lung injury patients there is still a need for new therapies that can further decrease mortality in patients with acute lung injury. Studies of epithelial ion and fluid transport across the distal pulmonary epithelia have provided important new concepts regarding potential new therapies for acute lung injury. Overall, there is convincing evidence that the alveolar epithelium is not only a tight epithelial barrier that resists the movement of edema fluid into the alveoli, but it is also actively involved in the transport of ions and solutes, a process that is essential for edema fluid clearance and the resolution of acute lung injury. The objective of this article is to consider some areas of recent progress in the field of alveolar fluid transport under normal and pathologic conditions. Vectorial ion transport across the alveolar and distal airway epithelia is the primary determinant of alveolar fluid clearance. The general paradigm is that active Na(+) and Cl(-) transport drives net alveolar fluid clearance, as demonstrated in several different species, including the human lung. Although these transport processes can be impaired in severe lung injury, multiple experimental studies suggest that upregulation of Na(+) and Cl(-) transport might be an effective therapy in acute lung injury. We will review mechanisms involved in pharmacological modulation of ion transport in lung injury with a special focus on the use of beta-adrenergic agonists which has generated considerable interest and is a promising therapy for clinical acute lung injury.