Hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and keratinocyte growth factor (KGF) are among the most potent mitogens identified for alveolar type II epithelial cells and may have other important functions in repair of the alveolar epithelium in acute lung injury (ALI). However, neither growth factor has been identified in the distal air spaces or plasma of patients with ALI. The goals of this study were to determine: (1) whether HGF and KGF are present in pulmonary edema fluid from patients with ALI and control patients with hydrostatic pulmonary edema; (2) whether HGF and KGF are biologically active in pulmonary edema; and (3) whether HGF or KGF levels are associated with clinical outcome. Pulmonary edema and plasma samples were obtained within 48 h of onset of acute pulmonary edema requiring mechanical ventilation in 26 patients with ALI and 11 control patients with hydrostatic edema. HGF and KGF concentrations were measured with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs). The median (25th to 75th percentiles) concentration of HGF in pulmonary edema fluid was 21.4 (8.3 to 41.3) ng/ml in ALI and 6.6 (4.8 to 11.4) ng/ml in hydrostatic edema fluid (p < 0.01). The HGF concentration was 7-fold higher in the edema fluid than in the plasma of patients with ALI. In contrast, KGF was detected in low concentrations in edema fluid of patients with ALI and hydrostatic pulmonary edema; the concentration of KGF did not differ in ALI edema (0.6 [0.3 to 2.1] ng/ml) and hydrostatic edema fluid (0.2 [0.0 to 2.6] ng/ml) (p = NS). HGF and KGF were partly purified from four edema-fluid samples by heparin-Sepharose chromatography. Partly purified edema fluids were potent stimuli of DNA synthesis in cultured rat type II alveolar cells; addition of neutralizing antibodies to HGF and KGF attenuated this increase in DNA synthesis by 66% and 53%, respectively. Interestingly, higher edema-fluid levels of HGF were associated with higher mortality in patients with ALI. These novel results show that HGF and KGF are active in the alveolar space early in ALI, probably mediating early events in lung repair, and that increased levels of HGF in edema fluid may have prognostic value early in ALI.