Experimental methods to quantify alveolar fluid clearance have been adapted for our studies in patients with acute lung injury (ALI) or ARDS. We recently completed a study of 79 patients with ALI/ARDS that was designed to examine alveolar fluid clearance in the setting of alveolar epithelial injury from ALI/ARDS. Pulmonary edema fluid and plasma were sampled serially in the first 4 h after endotracheal intubation and the initiation of positive-pressure ventilation. Net alveolar fluid clearance was calculated from sequential edema fluid protein measurements. Patients with maximal alveolar fluid clearance had a significantly lower mortality rate and a shorter duration of mechanical ventilation. Several mechanisms may account for the decrease in the rate of alveolar fluid clearance in ALI/ARDS patients, including hypoxia, reactive oxygen species, reactive nitrogen species, and the loss of an intact epithelial barrier in the distal airspaces of the lung. Despite the epithelial injury in patients with ALI/ARDS, some experimental studies have suggested that alveolar fluid clearance could be increased with therapy using cyclic adenosine monophosphate agonists or other pharmacologic agents.