Surfactant protein (SP) A and SP-D are collagenous glycoproteins with multiple functions in the lung. Both of these proteins are calcium-dependent lectins and are structurally similar to mannose-binding protein and bovine conglutinin. Both form polyvalent multimeric structures for interactions with pathogens, cells, or other molecules. SP-A is an integral part of the surfactant system, binds phospholipids avidly, and is found in lamellar bodies and tubular myelin. Initially, most research interest focused on its role in surfactant homeostasis. Recently, more attention has been placed on the role of SP-A as a host defense molecule and its interactions with pathogens and phagocytic cells. SP-D is much less involved with the surfactant system. SP-D appears to be primarily a host defense molecule that binds surfactant phospholipids poorly and is not found in lamellar inclusion bodies or tubular myelin. Both SP-A and SP-D bind a wide spectrum of pathogens including viruses, bacteria, fungi, and pneumocystis. In addition, both molecules have been measured in the systemic circulation by immunologic methods and may be useful biomarkers of disease. The current challenges are characterization of the three-dimensional crystal structure of SP-A and SP-D, molecular cloning of their receptors, and determination of their precise physiological functions in vivo.