The aim of this study was to determine the lung levels of metallothionein (MT), a free radical scavenger, because oxygen-derivated free radicals (ODFRs) have been involved both in reperfusion injury of transplanted lungs and in cardiac or renal allograft destruction. First, MT localization was evaluated in 14 normal human lung biopsy specimens. Then, in lung transplant recipients, MT content in BAL fluid (BALF) and its transcription rate in alveolar macrophages (AMs) were determined. The BALFs of 69 patients were separated into six groups: lung transplant recipients in clinically stable condition (CSR), those with acute rejection (AR), asymptomatic cytomegalovirus infection (ACMV), cytomegalovirus pneumonitis (CMVP), bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS), and patients without transplants who served as control subjects (NTCs). In normal lungs, 83% of AMs were positively stained. MT staining was also observed in pleural endothelial cells and basal cells from bronchial epithelium. In lung transplant recipients, MT levels in BALF were significantly higher in patients with CSR, AR, ACMV, and CMVP compared with NTCs, while during BOS, MT had a significantly lower level compared with other lung transplant groups. However, no difference among groups was found concerning MT-II messenger RNA expression in AMs, showing that, as in normal lung, AMs are not the only cells that produce MT. These data report for the first time to our knowledge MT cell distribution in human lung with specific emphasis on its enhanced levels after lung transplantation, even in the absence of complication. Possible correlation among MT levels, ODFRs, cytokine levels, and corticosteroid treatment during complications of lung transplantation are discussed.