A retrospective review of Mayo Clinic records through 1983 revealed 84 patients (24 male and 10 female; mean age, 41 years) with the diagnosis of pulmonary alveolar phospholipoproteinosis. The major clinical features were dyspnea, cough, fever, and chest pain. Chest roentgenograms usually showed bilateral symmetric alveolar infiltrates, but asymmetric, unilateral, and chronic patchy patterns were also noted. Diagnosis was established by thoracotomy-lung biopsy in 26 patients. Histologic analysis revealed uniform filling of the alveoli by periodic acid-Schiff-positive material and maintenance of normal alveolar architecture. Electron microscopy showed enlarged alveolar macrophages with lamellar osmiophilic inclusions, dense granules, and myeloid bodies. Of the 21 patients who underwent therapeutic bronchoalveolar lavage, 13 had no recurrence of the disease during a mean follow-up of 8.8 years. In patients who underwent pulmonary function testing both before and after lavage, significant restrictive dysfunctions present before the procedure were alleviated afterward. Three deaths occurred among the 34 patients. Pulmonary alveolar phospholipoproteinosis may result from defective clearance of phospholipids by the alveolar macrophages, excessive production of phospholipids by type II pneumocytes, or both. It is likely a nonspecific response to a variety of injuries to the alveolar macrophage or type II pneumocyte or both, including exposure to certain dusts and chemicals and occurrence of hematologic diseases or infections. The uncommon occurrence of this disorder suggests individual susceptibility.