We quantified the effects of continuous exposure to 100% 02 on the development of sublethal injury to the pulmonary alveolar epithelium of rabbits. There was a progressive increase in alveolar permeability to solute after 48 h in 0 which coincided with the onset of damage to the pulmonary microvasculature. Rabbits that were exposed to 100% O2for 64 h and returned to room air for 24 h had, in addition to increased permeability to solute, decreased phospholipid levels, decreased total lung capacity, pulmonary edema, high minimum surface tensions in their bronchoalveolar lavage, and moderate hypoxemia. Intratracheal instillation of calf lung surfactant (CLSE) significantly ameliorated the progression of hyperoxic injury by increasing alveolar phospholipid levels and thus preventing the inhibition of lung surfactant activity by plasma proteins and other high molecular weight components of alveolar edema. We concluded that the alveolar epithelium and the pulmonary microvasculature show similar sensitivity to hyperoxia and that clinical manifestations of hyperoxic lung injury may be due, at least in part, to surfactant dysfunction. © 1988 Informa UK Ltd All rights reserved: reproduction in whole or part not permitted.