Exogenous surfactant therapy has been a significant advance in the management of preterm infants with RDS. It has become established as a standard part of the management of such infants. Both natural and synthetic surfactants lead to clinical improvement and decreased mortality, with natural surfactants having additional advantages over currently available synthetic surfactants. The use of prophylactic surfactant administered after initial stabilization at birth to infants at risk for RDS has benefits compared with rescue surfactant given to treat infants with established RDS. In infants who do not receive prophylaxis, earlier treatment (before 2 hours) has benefits over later treatment. The use of multiple doses of surfactant is a superior strategy to the use of a single dose, whereas the use of a higher threshold for retreatment seems to be as effective as a low threshold. Adverse effects of surfactant therapy are infrequent and usually not serious. Long-term follow-up of infants treated with surfactant in the neonatal period is reassuring. In the future we are likely to see the development of new types of surfactants. Further research is required to determine the optimal use of surfactant in conjunction with other respiratory interventions.