Bacterial colonization is a secondary feature of many lung disorders associated with elevated cytokine levels and increased leukocyte recruitment. We hypothesized that, alongside macrophages, the epithelium would be an important source of these mediators. We investigated the effect of LPS (0, 10, 100, and 1000 ng/ml LPS, up to 24 h) on primary human lung macrophages and alveolar type II epithelial cells (ATII; isolated from resected lung tissue). Although macrophages produced higher levels of the cytokines TNF-alpha and IL-1beta (p < 0.0001), ATII cells produced higher levels of chemokines MCP-1, IL-8, and growth-related oncogene alpha (p < 0.001), in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. Macrophage (but not ATII cell) responses to LPS required activation of ERK1/2 and p38 MAPK signaling cascades; phosphorylated ERK1/2 was constitutively up-regulated in ATII cells. Blocking Abs to TNF-alpha and IL-1beta during LPS exposure showed that ATII cell (not macrophage) MCP-1 release depended on the autocrine effects of IL-1beta and TNF-alpha (p < 0.003, 24 h). ATII cell release of IL-6 depended on autocrine effects of TNF-alpha (p < 0.006, 24 h). Macrophage IL-6 release was most effectively inhibited when both TNF-alpha and IL-1beta were blocked (p < 0.03, 24 h). Conditioned media from ATII cells stimulated more leukocyte migration in vitro than conditioned media from macrophages (p < 0.0002). These results show differential activation of cytokine and chemokine release by ATII cells and macrophages following LPS exposure. Activated alveolar epithelium is an important source of chemokines that orchestrate leukocyte migration to the peripheral lung; early release of TNF-alpha and IL-1beta by stimulated macrophages may contribute to alveolar epithelial cell activation and chemokine production.