Acute lung injury (ALI), such as that which occurs with mechanical ventilation, contributes to morbidity and mortality of critical illness. Nonetheless, in many instances, ALI resolves spontaneously through unknown mechanisms. Therefore, we hypothesized the presence of innate adaptive pathways to protect the lungs during mechanical ventilation. In this study, we used ventilator-induced lung injury as a model to identify endogenous mechanisms of lung protection. Initial in vitro studies revealed that supernatants from stretch-induced injury contained a stable factor which diminished endothelial leakage. This factor was subsequently identified as adenosine. Additional studies in vivo revealed prominent increases in pulmonary adenosine levels with mechanical ventilation. Because ectoapyrase (CD39) and ecto-5′- nucleotidase (CD73) are rate limiting for extracellular adenosine generation, we examined their contribution to ALI. In fact, both pulmonary CD39 and CD73 are induced by mechanical ventilation. Moreover, we observed pressure- and time-dependent increases in pulmonary edema and inflammation in ventilated cd39-/- mice. Similarly, pharmacological inhibition or targeted gene deletion of cd73 was associated with increased symptom severity of ventilator-induced ALI. Reconstitution of cd39-/- or cd73 -/- mice with soluble apyrase or 5′-nucleotidase, respectively, reversed such increases. In addition, ALI was significantly attenuated and survival improved after i.p. treatment of wild-type mice with soluble apyrase or 5′-nucleotidase. Taken together, these data reveal a previously unrecognized role for CD39 and CD73 in lung protection and suggest treatment with their soluble compounds as a therapeutic strategy for noninfectious ALI.