We compared the onset of clinical response and safety of two surfactants, poractant alfa (Curosurf, Chiesi Pharmaceuticals, Parma, Italy) and beractant (Survanta, Ross Laboratories, Columbus, OH), for treatment of respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) in preterm infants weighing 750 to 1750 g at birth and <35 weeks gestation. The study was performed as a 20-center prospective, randomized, masked comparison trial. Preterm infants (n = 293) with RDS were randomized to receive an initial dose of either 100 (n = 96) or 200 (n = 99) mg/kg of poractant alfa or 100 ( n = 98) mg/kg of beractant. All repeat dosing was given at 100 mg/kg. The onset of clinical response after the first dose was studied by comparing changes in the fraction of inspired oxygen (F IO(2)) between 0 and 6 hours measured using the area under the curve (F IO(2) AUC (0-6)); other outcomes were assessed for the entire cohort at 28 days and for infants born at < or = 32 weeks gestation at 36 weeks postconceptional age. We found that the mean F IO(2) AUC (0-6) values for the 100 and 200 mg/kg poractant alfa groups were both significantly lower than the mean F IO(2) AUC (0-6) values for the beractant group ( p < 0.005) but were not different from each other. Other outcomes were not different among the three groups for the entire cohort, but in infants born at < or = 32 weeks gestation, mortality up to 36 weeks postconceptional age was significantly less in the 200 mg/kg poractant alfa group than in either the beractant group (3% versus 11%; p = 0.034) or in the 100 mg/kg poractant alfa group (3% versus 11%; p = 0.046). Need for more than one dose of surfactant was significantly lower in infants treated with an initial dose of 200 mg/kg poractant alfa in comparison to the beractant-treated group ( p < 0.002). Treatment with poractant alfa (200 mg/kg initial dose) resulted in rapid reduction in supplemental oxygen with fewer additional doses of surfactant versus treatment with beractant in infants <35 weeks gestation with RDS, and significantly reduced mortality ( p <0.05) than either beractant or poractant alfa (100 mg/kg dosing) in infants < or =32 weeks gestation with RDS.