The isolation of a pure population of type II pneumocytes from adult rabbit lung by the technique of multiparameter laser flow cytometry is reported here. Lipophilic phosphine-3R was used to stain cell dissociated from lungs by elastase and trypsin. Type II cells were then sorted by simultaneous measurement of high phosphine-3R fluorescent staining of lamellar bodies and intermediate intensity of low-angle light scatter. We were able to obtain an essentially pure population (98%) at sorting rates of 5 X 10(5) lamellar-body-containing cells per hour. The cell sorter technique offers an attractive alternative to the density gradient isolation of type II cells, particularly in terms of detailed population analysis. In addition, refinements in cell sorter methods offer the potential to discriminate differentiating type II cells with few lamellar bodies that do not segregate on the basis of buoyant density.