Liposome-encapsulated Cu,Zn superoxide dismutase (Cu,Zn SOD) and catalase (CAT) were instilled intratracheally in rabbits, and the temporal and spatial distribution of Cu,Zn SOD and CAT within the lung was assessed at the organ and cellular levels. Specific activities of Cu,Zn SOD and CAT were increased in both lung homogenates and isolated alveolar type II pneumocytes. Peak Cu,Zn SOD activities in lung homogenates and alveolar type II cells were observed 4 h after liposome instillation and returned to control levels by 24 h, whereas CAT activities remained significantly above controls. There were no significant differences in liposome distribution or antioxidant enzyme uptake among lung lobes. The distribution of fluorescently labeled Cu,Zn SOD and CAT was assessed with the use of epifluorescence microscopy and digital image processing to determine patterns of cellular incorporation of liposome- entrapped Cu,Zn SOD and CAT within the lung. Although the mean fluorescence intensity of alveoli from rabbits instilled with liposomes containing labeled Cu,Zn SOD and CAT was greater than autofluorescence observed with either no liposome or empty liposome instillation, fluorescence intensity varied between adjacent alveoli. Both fluorescently labeled Cu,Zn SOD and CAT were located cytosolically, and uptake was not limited to alveolar type II pneumocytes. These results demonstrate that a single intratracheal instillation of liposomes can effect increases in Cu,Zn SOD and CAT activities in distal lung cells, including alveolar type I and type II cells and macrophages.