To determine whether a single prophylactic dose of synthetic surfactant would reduce mortality and morbidity rates, we performed a randomized, controlled trial of Exosurf Neonatal at 19 hospitals in the United States. The Exosurf preparation (5 ml/kg) was instilled into the endotracheal tube of premature infants weighing 700 to 1100 gm during mechanical ventilation, as soon as practical after birth. Control infants were treated with air (5 ml/kg). Dose administration was performed in secrecy by clinicians who did not reveal for 2 years what they had instilled. A total of 222 infants received air and 224 received the synthetic surfactant; 36 infants with congenital pneumonia or malformations were excluded from the primary efficacy analysis. By the age of 28 days, there were 44 deaths in the air group and 27 deaths in the surfactant group (p=0.022). By the age of 1 year after term there were 61 deaths in the air group and 35 deaths in the surfactant group (p=0.002). Although there was no reduction in the incidence of respiratory distress syndrome, a significant reduction in the number of deaths attributed to respiratory distress syndrome, a significant reduction in the incidence of pulmonary air leaks, and significantly lower requirements for oxygen and mean airway pressure indicated that lung disease was less severe in the Exosurf-treated infants. There were no significant differences in the incidence of complications such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia, intraventricular hemorrhage, patent ductus arteriosus, necrotizing enterocolitis, and infection. The results indicate that a single prophylactic dose of Exosurf, in high-risk premature infants treated soon after birth, reduces the number of deaths from respiratory distress syndrome and the overall mortality rate.