Using our recently described model of acute lung injury in rats after systemic activation of complement by cobra venom factor (CVF), we demonstrated that pretreatment of animals with human milk apolactoferrin (in its native or derivatized form), but not iron-saturated lactoferrin, provides significant protection against complement- and neutrophil-mediated lung injury. The synthetic iron chelator deferoxamine mesylate also affords protection from lung injury. The protective effects of apolactoferrin are not related to a blocking of CVF-induced complement activation. We also demonstrated that infusion of ionic iron, especially Fe3+, greatly potentiates lung vascular injury after systemic complement activation. Finally, protection from lung injury occurs in animals pretreated with the potent scavenger of hydroxyl radicals (OH.), dimethyl sulfoxide. Based on transmission electron microscopy, CVF-treated rats show leukoaggregates and endothelial cell destruction in interstitial pulmonary capillaries, along with intraalveolar hemorrhage and fibrin deposition. In animals protected with apolactoferrin, deferoxamine mesylate, or dimethyl sulfoxide, the morphological studies reveal leukoaggregates but no endothelial cell damage, hemorrhage, or fibrin deposition. These data support the concept that tissue injury that is complement and neutrophil dependent may be related to generation of OH. derived from H2O2 after leukocytic activation.