Mononuclear phagocyte (M phi) recruitment and activation is a hallmark of a number of chronic inflammatory diseases of the lung, including sarcoidosis and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). We hypothesized that macrophage inflammatory protein-1 (MIP-1 alpha), a peptide with leukocyte activating and chemotactic properties, may play an important role in mediating many of the cellular changes that occur in sarcoidosis and IPF. In initial experiments, we demonstrated that human rMIP-1 alpha exerted chemotactic activities toward both polymorphonuclear leukocytes and monocytes, and these activities were inhibited by treatment with rabbit anti-human MIP-1 alpha antiserum. In support of the potential role of MIP-1 alpha in interstitial lung disease, we detected MIP-1 alpha in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid of 22/23 patients with sarcoidosis (mean 443 +/- 76 pg/ml) and 9/9 patients with IPF (mean 427 +/- 81 pg/ml), whereas detectable MIP-1 alpha was found in only 1/7 healthy subjects (mean 64 +/- 64 pg/ml). In addition, we found a 2.5- and 1.8-fold increase in monocyte chemotactic activity in BALF obtained from patients with sarcoidosis and IPF respectively, as compared to healthy subjects, and this monocyte chemotactic activity, but not neutrophil chemotactic activity, was reduced by approximately 22% when bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from sarcoidosis and IPF patients were preincubated with rabbit antihuman MIP-1 alpha antibodies. To determine the cellular source(s) of MIP-1 alpha within the lung, we performed immunohistochemical analysis of bronchoalveolar lavage cell pellets, transbronchial biopsies, and open lung biopsies obtained from patients with IPF and sarcoidosis. Substantial expression of cell-associated MIP-1 alpha was detected in M phi, including both alveolar AM phi and interstitial M phi. In addition, interstitial fibroblasts within biopsies obtained from sarcoid and IPF patients also expressed immunoreactive MIP-1 alpha. Minimal to no detectable MIP-1 alpha was expressed in alveolar M phi from healthy subjects or interstitial cells in lung biopsy specimens obtained from patients undergoing thoracotomy for malignancy. Furthermore, pulmonary fibroblasts isolated from patients with IPF produced greater amounts of MIP-1 alpha after challenge with IL-1 beta than did similarly treated pulmonary fibroblasts recovered from patients without fibrotic lung disease. Our findings suggest that MIP-1 alpha is expressed in increased amounts within the airspace and interstitium of patients with sarcoidosis and IPF, and that this cytokine may be an important mediator of both M phi activation and recruitment that characterize these disease states.