BACKGROUND: Surfactant protein D (SP-D) is a collection that plays important roles in modulating host defense functions and maintaining phospholipid homeostasis in the lung. The aim of current study was to characterize comparatively the SP-D response in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) and serum in three murine models of lung injury, using a validated ELISA technology for estimation of SP-D levels. METHODS: Mice were exposed to lipopolysaccharide, bleomycin, or Pneumocystis carinii (Pc) and sacrificed at different time points. RESULTS: In lipopolysaccharide-challenged mice, the level of SP-D in BAL increased within 6 h, peaked at 51 h (4,518 ng/ml), and returned to base level at 99 h (612 ng/ml). Serum levels of SP-D increased immediately (8.6 ng/ml), peaked at 51 h (16 ng/ml), and returned to base levels at 99 h (3.8 ng/ml). In a subacute bleomycin inflammation model, SP-D levels were 4,625 and 367 ng/ml in BAL and serum, respectively, 8 days after exposure. In a chronic Pc inflammation model, the highest level of SP-D was observed 6 weeks after inoculation, with BAL and serum levels of 1,868 and 335 ng/ml, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that serum levels of SP-D increase during lung injury, with a sustained increment during chronic inflammation compared with acute inflammation. A quick upregulation of SP-D in serum in response to acute airway inflammation supports the notion that SP-D translocates from the airways into the vascular system, in favor of being synthesized systemically. The study also confirms the concept of using increased SP-D serum levels as a biomarker of especially chronic airway inflammation.