Multiple cell types contribute to the pulmonary barrier including Type I and Type II alveolar epithelium. The objective of this research was to establish and characterize an in vitro model of Type II alveolar epithelium using the A549 human lung adenocarcinoma cell line. A549 cells form confluent monolayers with Type II characteristic morphology and tannic acid staining for typical lamellar bodies. A549 cells possess P450 IA1 and P450 IIB6 as determined by Western blots. Both CYPIA1 and CYPIIB6 P450 isozymes were determined to be functional with the fluorescent resorufin assay. Only the IA1 isozyme was observed to be inducible with selected polycyclic hydrocarbons. Uptake and transport experiments were carried out in cluster plates and in Snapwells. Cationized ferritin, a nonspecific absorbtive marker, was found to be taken up by the cells in a concentration-, time-, and temperature-dependent fashion. Lucifer yellow, a fluid-phase marker, was not internalized by the A549 cells. Transferrin, a representative receptor-mediated endocytic marker, was found to be taken up by the cells in a concentration-dependent and competitive fashion. Transport experiments involving fluorescein-transferrin also showed that A549 monolayers were polarized, with a greater amount of intracellular transferrin being transported out of the basolateral side of the cells. The experimental data agree favorably with literature for primary cultures of Type II pulmonary epithelial cells. These results indicated that the A549 cell line may be useful for the studying the metabolic and macromolecule processing contributions of alveolar Type II cells to mechanisms of drug delivery at the pulmonary epithelium. Copyright 1998 Academic Press.