Rtp801 (also known as Redd1, and encoded by Ddit4), a stress-related protein triggered by adverse environmental conditions, inhibits mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) by stabilizing the TSC1-TSC2 inhibitory complex and enhances oxidative stress-dependent cell death. We postulated that Rtp801 acts as a potential amplifying switch in the development of cigarette smoke-induced lung injury, leading to emphysema. Rtp801 mRNA and protein were overexpressed in human emphysematous lungs and in lungs of mice exposed to cigarette smoke. The regulation of Rtp801 expression by cigarette smoke may rely on oxidative stress-dependent activation of the CCAAT response element in its promoter. We also found that Rtp801 was necessary and sufficient for nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) activation in cultured cells and, when forcefully expressed in mouse lungs, it promoted NF-kappaB activation, alveolar inflammation, oxidative stress and apoptosis of alveolar septal cells. In contrast, Rtp801 knockout mice were markedly protected against acute cigarette smoke-induced lung injury, partly via increased mTOR signaling, and, when exposed chronically to cigarette smoke, against emphysema. Our data support the notion that Rtp801 may represent a major molecular sensor and mediator of cigarette smoke-induced lung injury.