Endogenous lung surfactant, and lung surfactant replacements used to treat respiratory distress syndrome, can be inactivated during lung edema, most likely by serum proteins. Serum albumin shows a concentration-dependent surface pressure that can exceed the respreading pressure of collapsed monolayers in vitro. Under these conditions, the collapsed surfactant monolayer can not respread to cover the interface, leading to higher minimum surface tensions and alterations in isotherms and morphology. This is an unusual example of a blocked phase transition (collapsed to monolayer form) inhibiting bioactivity. The concentration-dependent surface activity of other common surfactant inhibitors including fibrinogen and lysolipids correlates well with their effectiveness as inhibitors. These results show that respreading pressure may be as important as the minimum surface tension in the design of replacement surfactants for respiratory distress syndrome.