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A major barrier to a more complete understanding of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) pathophysiology is the inability to sample the distal airspace of patients with ARDS. The heat moisture exchanger (HME) filter is an inline bacteriostatic sponge that collects exhaled moisture from the lungs of mechanically ventilated patients.To test the hypothesis that HME filter fluid (HMEF) represents the distal airspace fluid in patients with ARDS.Samples of HMEF were collected from 37 patients with acute pulmonary edema (either from ARDS or hydrostatic causes [HYDRO; control subjects]). Concurrent undiluted pulmonary edema fluid (EF) and HMEF were collected from six patients. HMEF from 11 patients (8 ARDS and 3 HYDRO) were analyzed by liquid chromatography-coupled tandem mass spectometry. Total protein (bicinchoninic acid assay), MMP-9 (matrix metalloproteinase-9), and MPO (myeloperoxidase) (ELISA) were measured in 29 subjects with ARDS and 5 subjects with HYDRO. SP-D (surfactant protein-D), RAGE (receptor for advanced glycation end-products) (ELISA), and cytokines (IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, and tumor necrosis factor-α) (electrochemiluminescent assays) were measured in six concurrent HMEF and EF samples.Liquid chromatography-coupled tandem mass spectrometry on concurrent EF and HMEF samples from four patients revealed similar base peak intensities and m/z values indicating similar protein composition. There were 21 significantly elevated proteins in HMEF from patients with ARDS versus HYDRO. Eight proteins measured in concurrent EF and HMEF from six patients were highly correlated. In HMEF, total protein and MMP-9 were significantly higher in ARDS than in HYDRO.These data suggest that HMEF is a novel, noninvasive method to accurately sample the distal airspace in patients with ARDS.