Mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSNs) exhibit unique drug delivery properties and are thus considered as promising candidates for next generation nano-medicines. In particular, inhalation into the lungs represents a direct, non-invasive delivery route for treating lung disease. To assess MSN biocompatibility in the lung, we investigated the bioresponse of avidin-coated MSNs (MSN-AVI), as well as aminated (uncoated) MSNs, after direct application into the lungs of mice. We quantified MSN distribution, clearance rate, cell-specific uptake, and inflammatory responses to MSNs within one week after instillation. We show that amine-functionalized (MSN-NH2) particles are not taken up by lung epithelial cells, but induced a prolonged inflammatory response in the lung and macrophage cell death. In contrast, MSN-AVI co-localized with alveolar epithelial type 1 and type 2 cells in the lung in the absence of sustained inflammatory responses or cell death, and showed preferential epithelial cell uptake in in vitro co-cultures. Further, MSN-AVI particles demonstrated uniform particle distribution in mouse lungs and slow clearance rates. Thus, we provide evidence that avidin functionalized MSNs (MSN-AVI) have the potential to serve as versatile biocompatible drug carriers for lung-specific drug delivery.