Abstract In hormone-free explant cultures of 18-day fetal rat lung the levels of the mRNAs for fatty acid synthase, ATP citrate lyase and surfactant proteins A, B, and C, increased as they do in vivo. Also CTP:phosphocholine cytidylyltransferase mRNA increased spontaneously. Unlike in vivo, malic enzyme mRNA increased drastically in cultured explants. Culture with dexamethasone increased the abundance of fatty acid synthase and surfactant protein mRNAs, but considerably depressed that of malic enzyme mRNA. Dexamethasone had little effect on CTP:phosphocholine cytidylyltransferase mRNA, supporting the concept that the increased activity of this enzyme caused by glucocorticoid is due to increased fatty acid synthesis.