Oxygen toxicity is attributed to the reaction of oxygen metabolites with cellular components leading to cell destruction. Activation of latent human neutrophil interstitial collagenase by reactive oxygen species has been demonstrated. The potential role of collagenases in hyperoxic lung injury has not been investigated. We studied the effect of hyperoxia on newborn rat lung water content, morphology and ultrastructure, interstitial (type I) and type IV collagenase gene expression and type I and IV collagenolytic activity. We observed that hyperoxia causes pulmonary edema, alters newborn rat lung morphology in a sequential manner and produces ultrastructural alterations, induces type I and increases type IV collagenase mRNA expression, and increases type I and IV collagenolytic activity. A role for type I and IV collagenase in hyperoxic newborn lung injury or in the recovery following the injury is proposed.