Acute lung injury and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) occur frequently in brain-injured patients. Single organ dysfunction ventilator strategies result in a conflict between lung protective ventilation and the prevention of secondary neurological insult(s). The objectives of this study were to determine if clinical and physiological benefits of high-frequency oscillatory ventilation (HFOV) exist compared to conventional ventilation and to determine what data there are on the effects of HFOV on cerebral perfusion pressure and intracranial pressure. Systematic review was designed. An optimally sensitive search strategy was used that included; OVID MEDLINE, OVID EMBASE, Cochrane Clinical Trials Register, and hand searching of references of retrieved articles and proceedings of meetings. Study selection includes published randomized controlled trials comparing HFOV with conventional ventilation in adults with ARDS and observational studies of the use of HFOV in adults with ARDS and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Both authors reviewed all trials. A data extraction form was used. In adults with ARDS no mortality benefit has been shown with HFOV, oxygenation improves, arterial partial pressure of CO(2) may increase and there is no change in mean arterial blood pressure. There are few data describing HFOV in adults with TBI. In the small, low quality, studies that have been reported there have not been uncontrollable changes in intracranial pressure. HFOV has not been shown to have any mortality benefit in adults with ARDS. There are insufficient data to clarify the role, or safety, of HFOV in adults with TBI and concurrent ARDS.