Extracellular superoxide dismutase (EC-SOD) is expressed at high levels in lungs. EC-SOD has a polycationic matrix-binding domain that binds to polyanionic constituents in the matrix. Previous studies indicate that EC-SOD protects the lung in both bleomycin- and asbestos-induced models of pulmonary fibrosis. Although the mechanism of EC-SOD protection is not fully understood, these studies indicate that EC-SOD plays an important role in regulating inflammatory responses to pulmonary injury. Hyaluronan is a polyanionic high molecular mass polysaccharide found in the extracellular matrix that is sensitive to oxidant-mediated fragmentation. Recent studies found that elevated levels of low molecular mass hyaluronan are associated with inflammatory conditions. We hypothesize that EC-SOD may inhibit pulmonary inflammation in part by preventing superoxide-mediated fragmentation of hyaluronan to low molecular mass fragments. We found that EC-SOD directly binds to hyaluronan and significantly inhibits oxidant-induced degradation of this glycosaminoglycan. In vitro human polymorphic neutrophil chemotaxis studies indicate that oxidative fragmentation of hyaluronan results in polymorphic neutrophil chemotaxis and that EC-SOD can completely prevent this response. Intratracheal injection of crocidolite asbestos in mice leads to pulmonary inflammation and injury that is enhanced in EC-SOD knock-out mice. Notably, hyaluronan levels are increased in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid after asbestos-induced pulmonary injury, and this response is markedly enhanced in EC-SOD knock-out mice. These data indicate that inhibition of oxidative hyaluronan fragmentation probably represents one mechanism by which EC-SOD inhibits inflammation in response to lung injury.