Chorioamnionitis is a major cause of preterm delivery. Infants exposed to inflammation in utero and then born preterm may have improved lung function in the immediate postnatal period. We developed a mouse model of chorioamnionitis to study the inflammatory signaling mechanisms that might influence fetal lung maturation. With this in vivo model, we found that Escherichia coli lipopolysaccharide (LPS) increased the number of alveolar type II cells in the fetal mouse lung. LPS also increased type II cell number in cultured fetal lung explants, suggesting that LPS could directly signal the fetal lung in the absence of maternal influences. Using immunostaining, we localized cells within the fetal mouse lung expressing the LPS receptor molecule Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4). Similar to the signaling pathways in inflammatory cells, LPS activated NF-kappaB in fetal lung explants. Activation of the TLR4/NF-kappaB pathway appeared to be required, as LPS did not increase the number of type II cells in C.C3H-Tlr4(Lps-d) mice, a congenic strain containing a loss of function mutation in tlr4. In addition, the sesquiterpene lactone parthenolide inhibited NF-kappaB activation following LPS exposure and blocked the LPS-induced increase in type II cells. On the basis of these data from our mouse model of chorioamnionitis, it appears that LPS specifically activated the TLR4/NF-kappaB pathway, leading to increased type II cell maturation. These data implicate an important signaling mechanism in chorioamnionitis and suggest the TLR4/NF-kappaB pathway can influence lung development.