Acute lung injury syndromes have many characteristics including protein-rich alveolar edema, hyaline membranes, and abnormal surface tension at the alveolar air-liquid interface. Increased surface tension can occur because of a relative surfactant deficiency and/or dysfunction. It has been previously demonstrated that surfactant dysfunction occurs when plasma protein inhibitors leak into the alveolar space during the induction of the lung injury and edema formation. The present study investigated whether inhibitors that would be generated during the stage of repair from lung injury could impair surfactant function. We determined whether fibrinogen degradation products (FDP) which would be released during lysis of the fibrin(ogen)-containing alveolar exudate and hyaline membranes, and components of the lungs’ ground substance could inhibit the in vitro function of a lipid extract surfactant preparation. FDP were prepared by incubating human fibrinogen with plasmin or neutrophil elastase for 4 min to 60 h and were characterized by SDS-PAGE. Early (fragment X and Y) and late (fragment D and E) plasmin-derived FDP (MW > 40,000) inhibited surfactant function as assessed by a bubble surfactometer. The early elastase-derived FDP also inhibited surfactant, but the later and much smaller fragments (MW < 15,000) did not affect surfactant function. Laminin also inhibited surfactant in a dose-dependent manner. Neither hyaluronic acid nor heparan sulfate affected surfactant performance in vitro. We conclude that plasmin-induced lysis of intraalveolar fibrinogen and hyaline membranes will result in prolonged generation (i.e. days) of surfactant inhibitors. The inhibition of surfactant by these proteins varies with the molecular weight and it is the protein component rather than the carbohydrate component of the ground substance that is responsible for affecting surfactant performance.