Oxidant-mediated toxicity resulting from acute pulmonary inflammation has been demonstrated in acute lung injury. A potent biological oxidant, peroxynitrite, is formed by the near diffusion-limited reaction of nitric oxide with superoxide. In addition to having hydroxyl radical-like oxidative reactivity, peroxynitrite is capable of nitrating phenolic rings, including protein-associated tyrosine residues. Nitric oxide does not directly nitrate tyrosine residues, therefore, demonstration of tissue nitrotyrosine residues infers the action of peroxynitrite or related nitrogen-centered oxidants. Lung tissue was obtained from formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded autopsy specimens, and specific polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies to nitrotyrosine were visualized by diaminobenzidene-peroxidase staining. Acute lung injury resulted in intense staining throughout the lung, including lung interstitium, alveolar epithelium, proteinaceous alveolar exudate, and inflammatory cells. In addition, staining of the vascular endothelium and subendothelial tissues was present in those patients with sepsis-induced acute lung injury. Antibody binding was blocked by coincubation with nitrotyrosine or nitrated bovine serum albumin but not by aminotyrosine, phosphotyrosine, or bovine serum albumin. Reduction of tissue nitrotyrosine to aminotyrosine by sodium hydrosulfite also blocked antibody binding. In control specimens with no overt pulmonary disease, there was only slight staining of the alveolar septum. These results demonstrate that nitrogen-derived oxidants are formed in human acute lung injury and suggest that peroxynitrite may be an important oxidant in inflammatory lung disease.