Radiation-induced lung injury limits radiotherapy of thoracic cancers. Detection of radiation pneumonitis associated with early radiation-induced lung injury (2–4 weeks postirradiation) may provide an opportunity to adjust treatment, before the onset of acute pneumonitis and/or irreversible fibrosis. In this study, localized magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy and imaging of hyperpolarized 13C-pyruvate (pyruvate) and 13C-lactate (lactate) were performed in the thorax and kidney regions of rats 2 weeks following whole-thorax irradiation (14 Gy). Lactate-to-pyruvate signal ratio was observed to increase by 110% (P < 0.01), 57% (P < 0.02), and 107% (P < 0.01), respectively, in the thorax, lung, and heart tissues of the radiated rats compared with healthy age-matched rats. This was consistent with lung inflammation confirmed using cell micrographs of bronchioalveolar lavage specimens and decreases in arterial oxygen partial pressure (paO2), indicative of hypoxia. No statistically significant difference was observed in either lactate-to-pyruvate signal ratios in the kidney region (P = 0.50) between the healthy (0.215 ± 0.100) and radiated cohorts (0.215 ± 0.054) or in blood lactate levels (P = 0.69) in the healthy (1.255 ± 0.247 mmol/L) and the radiated cohorts (1.325 ± 0.214 mmol/L), confirming that the injury is localized to the thorax. This work demonstrates the feasibility of hyperpolarized 13C metabolic MR spectroscopy and imaging for detection of early radiation-induced lung injury. Magn Reson Med 70:601–609, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.