In the present study, we characterized surfactant protein (SP)-A messenger RNA (mRNA) in mid-trimester human fetal trachea and bronchi. SP-A protein was localized by immunocytochemistry to scattered epithelial cells in the airway surface epithelium and in submucosal glands of the fetal trachea and bronchi. SP-A mRNA (2.2 kb) was detected by Northern blot analysis in human fetal trachea, as well as in primary and more distal bronchi. The levels of detectable SP-A mRNA were highest in the upper airways and were decreased in smaller bronchi in comparison. SP-A mRNA was barely detectable in the distal fetal lung tissue. In contrast, SP-A mRNA was abundant in cultured explants of distal human fetal lung tissue. SP-A1 and SP-A2 mRNA were detected by primer extension analysis in adult human lung tissue and in cultured human fetal lung explants. Only SP-A2 mRNA was detected in RNA isolated from human fetal trachea and bronchi. SP-A mRNA was localized by in situ hybridization in the fetal trachea and bronchi in scattered cells in the surface epithelium and, most prominently, in submucosal glands. Our results suggest that SP-A2, and not SP-A1, is produced in the human fetal tracheal and bronchial epithelium and in submucosal glands.