Blunt chest trauma is known to induce a pulmonary invasion of short-lived polymorphonuclear neutrophils and apoptosis of alveolar epithelial type 2 (AT2) cells. Apoptotic cells are removed by alveolar macrophages (AMΦ). We hypothesized that chest trauma alters the phagocytic response of AMΦ as well as the mediator release of AMΦ during phagocytosis. To study this, male Sprague-Dawley rats were subjected to blunt chest trauma. Phagocytosis assays were performed in AMΦ isolated 2 or 24 h after trauma with apoptotic cells or opsonized beads. Phagocytosis of apoptotic AT2 cells by unstimulated AMΦ was significantly increased 2 h after trauma. At 24 h, AMΦ from traumatized animals, stimulated with phorbol-12-myristate-13-acetate, ingested significantly more apoptotic polymorphonuclear neutrophils than AMΦ from sham animals. Alveolar macrophages after trauma released significantly higher levels of tumor necrosis factor α, macrophage inflammatory protein 1α, and cytokine-induced neutrophil chemoattractant 1 when they incorporated latex beads, but significantly lower levels of interleukin 1β and macrophage inflammatory protein 1α when they ingested apoptotic cells. In vivo, phagocytosis of intratracheally instilled latex beads was decreased in traumatized rats. The bronchoalveolar lavage concentrations of the phagocytosis-supporting surfactant proteins A and D after blunt chest trauma were slightly decreased, whereas surfactant protein D mRNA expression in AT2 cells was significantly increased after 2 h. These findings indicate that chest trauma augments the phagocytosis of apoptotic cells by AMΦ. Phagocytosis of opsonized beads enhances and ingestion of apoptotic cells downregulates the immunologic response following lung contusion. Our data emphasize the important role of phagocytosis during posttraumatic inflammation after lung contusion.