BACKGROUND Obliterative bronchiolitis in chronic rejection of lung allografts is characterised by airway epithelial damage and fibrosis. The process whereby normal epithelium is lost and replaced by fibroblastic scar tissue is poorly understood, but recent findings suggest that epithelial cells can become fibroblasts through epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). It is hypothesised that EMT occurs in lung allografts and plays a potential role in airway remodelling. METHODS Sixteen stable lung transplant recipients underwent bronchoscopy with bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), endobronchial biopsies, and bronchial brushings. Biopsy sections were stained for the fibroblast marker S100A4. Brushings were cultured on collagen, stained with anti-S100A4, and examined for further EMT markers including matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) zymographic activity and epithelial invasion through collagen coated filters. RESULTS A median 15% (0-48%) of the biopsy epithelium stained for S100A4 in stable lung transplant recipients and MMP-7 co-localisation was observed. In non-stimulated epithelial cultures from lung allografts, S100A4 staining was identified with MMP-2 and MMP-9 production and zymographic activity. MMP total protein and activity was increased following stimulation with transforming growth factor (TGF)-beta1. Non-stimulated transplant epithelial cells were invasive and penetration of collagen coated filters increased following TGF-beta1 stimulation. CONCLUSIONS This study provides evidence of EMT markers in lung allografts of patients without loss of lung function. The EMT process may represent a final common pathway following injury in more common diseases characterised by airway remodelling.