Urokinase activity is regulated by the specific endogenous plasminogen activator inhibitors type 1 (PAI-1) and type 2 (PAI-2). One of these inhibitors, PAI-1, has been directly implicated in connective tissue metabolism by virtue of its ability to bind extracellular matrix proteins. Because the normal lung is relatively rich in urokinase and abnormalities in urokinase activity have been associated with fibrotic lung diseases, we have explored the possibility of local production of PAI-1 and PAI-2 in human lung. Reverse transcription and subsequent amplification by the polymerase chain reaction of total lung RNA revealed PAI-1 mRNA in each of three normal samples and in two specimens from patients with the adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). In situ hybridizations of lung biopsy specimens from a patient with ARDS with cRNA probes to PAI-1 and PAI-2 indicated that alveolar macrophages express PAI-1 mRNA during the acute injury phase. Subsequent reverse transcription and PCR amplification of normal human monocyte and alveolar macrophage mRNA revealed that neither cell type expressed mRNA for urokinase inhibitors. However, after 24 h stimulation with endotoxin in vitro, monocytes were strongly positive for PAI-2 but negative for PAI-1 mRNA whereas, under the same conditions, alveolar macrophages exhibited mRNA for both PAI-1 and PAI-2. Metabolic labeling of endotoxin-stimulated alveolar macrophages with 35S-methionine followed by immunoprecipitation with PAI-1 and PAI-2 antibodies revealed that macrophages synthesized both PAI-1 and PAI-2. As judged by immunoprecipitation and functional studies, PAI-2 was found to be the major intracellular PA inhibitor whereas PAI-1 was found to predominate outside the cell. Thus, mononuclear phagocytes exhibit a developmental potential for PAI-1 expression. The release of PAI-1 by stimulated macrophages, as observed in the setting of ARDS, may be one mechanism by which these cells promote connective tissue accumulation.