Pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (PAP) is a rare disorder characterized by ineffective clearance of surfactant by alveolar macrophages. Through recent studies with genetically altered mice, the etiology of this idiopathic disease is becoming clearer. Functional deficiency of granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) appears to contribute to disease pathogenesis because mutant mice deficient in GM-CSF or its receptor spontaneously develop PAP. Recent human studies further suggest a connection between PAP and defective GM-CSF activity because inactivating anti–GM-CSF autoantibodies are observed in all patients with idiopathic PAP, and additional rare cases of PAP in children have been accompanied by genetic defects in the α chain of the GM-CSF receptor. In patients and mouse models of PAP, deficient GM-CSF activity appears to result in defective alveolar macrophages that are unable to maintain pulmonary surfactant homeostasis and display defective phagocytic and antigen-presenting capabilities. The most recent studies also suggest that neutrophil dysfunction additionally contributes to the increased susceptibility to lung infections seen in PAP. Because the phenotypic and immunologic abnormalities of PAP in mouse models can be corrected by GM-CSF reconstituting therapies, early clinical trials are underway utilizing administration of GM-CSF to potentially treat human PAP. The development of novel treatment approaches for PAP represents a dramatic illustration in pulmonary medicine of the “bench-to-bedside” process, in which basic scientists, translational researchers, and clinicians have joined together to rapidly take advantage of the unexpected observations frequently made in the modern molecular biology research laboratory.