One of the hallmarks of mucosal-host defense is the clearance of inhaled Ags by alveolar macrophages (AM) through interactions of IgA Abs and IgA Fc receptors (Fc alpha R). AM constitutively expressed Fc alpha R at lower levels than freshly isolated and in vitro-differentiated monocytes as determined by immunofluorescence using four anti-Fc alpha R mAb. SDS-PAGE analysis of iodinated cell surface proteins revealed that Fc alpha R on AM has an Mr of 50 to 65 kDa, slightly lower than that on monocytes (55-75 kDa). Treatment of AM Fc alpha R by N-glycanase gave rise to a protein core of 28 KDa, smaller than the 32-kDa backbone of blood monocytes. AM Fc alpha R molecules were unaffected by phosphatidylinositol-phospholipase C treatment. Fc alpha R transcripts were analyzed by reverse transcription-PCR using primers in the 5' and 3' regions of a U937 Fc alpha R cDNA. Three transcripts were amplified, cloned, and sequenced from AM and/or monocyte mRNA, the full length Fc alpha R and two alternatively spliced products corresponding to deletions of 66 and 288 nucleotides in the portion coding for the extracellular domain; they were named Fc alpha R a.1, a.2, and a.3, respectively. These PCR products were transcribed and translated in vitro into three proteins (Mr 32, 30, and 22 kDa, respectively), in which the 32- and 30-kDa species were immunoprecipitated by an anti-Fc alpha R mAb. The predicted size of the protein encoded by the Fc alpha R a.2 transcript without the leader peptide is Mr approximately 27,400, a value that is consistent with the Mr of AM Fc alpha R backbone. These results indicate that AM express at their surfaces a protein product of an alternatively spliced Fc alpha R transcript, the Fc alpha R a.2 isoform, that might have physiologic relevance in IgA-mediated host defense at mucosal sites.