The lung contains a host of extracellular matrix components that comprise the supporting and adhesive elements of conducting airways, alveoli and the vascular tree. While none of these components is unique to the lung, their peculiar distribution determines the architecture and function of this gas exchange organ. Cells and tissues of the lung interact with the matrix through a variety of surface receptors, especially the integrins and adhesive molecules, some of which may play important roles in lung injury and repair. Collagen type I is the predominant determinant of tensile strength, but as many as 11 other genetic types of collagen with specialized adhesive and connecting functions can be found in various lung structures, including cartilage and basement membranes. Excessive matrix accumulation in the lung is the result of a complex set of influences on gene regulation, part of which may be due to the presence of inflammatory cytokines that directly stimulate matrix synthesis. However, degradation and turnover of the matrix are also critical processes influenced by many of the same mediators. Collagenase and gelatinase (type IV collagenase) are tightly-regulated metalloenzymes that, together with a set of specific inhibitors of metalloproteinases, determine the net abundance and distribution of collagen. Elastases of several biochemical types are also under tight regulation by proteinase inhibitors. Elastin is essential to lung function at the level of alveolar wall resiliency and patency, and loss of elastin in emphysema appears to be due to uncontrolled degradation of the embryologically-established pattern of elastic fibres accompanied by nonfunctional replacement as a response to injury. Injury to the vascular endothelium of the lung, as well as other physiological insults that elevate pulmonary blood pressure, can lead to the excessive accumulation of collagen and elastin in the conductance and resistance arteries of the pulmonary circulation. Mechanical stress and endothelial injury may mediate the medial hypertrophy of these vessels. Extracellular matrix components are critically involved in every stage of lung biology: development, normal function and acute and chronic disease states. To date, only glucocorticoids, cross-linking inhibitors, and protease inhibitors have been used in a general attempt to suppress either excessive matrix accumulation or loss. More detailed understanding of the regulation and specific interactions of matrix components is central to the analysis of disease states and the development of appropriate therapeutic strategies.