The emergence of viral respiratory pathogens with pandemic potential, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and influenza A H5N1, urges the need for deciphering their pathogenesis to develop new intervention strategies. SARS-CoV infection causes acute lung injury (ALI) that may develop into life-threatening acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) with advanced age correlating positively with adverse disease outcome. The molecular pathways, however, that cause virus-induced ALI/ARDS in aged individuals are ill-defined. Here, we show that SARS-CoV-infected aged macaques develop more severe pathology than young adult animals, even though viral replication levels are similar. Comprehensive genomic analyses indicate that aged macaques have a stronger host response to virus infection than young adult macaques, with an increase in differential expression of genes associated with inflammation, with NF-kappaB as central player, whereas expression of type I interferon (IFN)-beta is reduced. Therapeutic treatment of SARS-CoV-infected aged macaques with type I IFN reduces pathology and diminishes pro-inflammatory gene expression, including interleukin-8 (IL-8) levels, without affecting virus replication in the lungs. Thus, ALI in SARS-CoV-infected aged macaques developed as a result of an exacerbated innate host response. The anti-inflammatory action of type I IFN reveals a potential intervention strategy for virus-induced ALI.