Bambuterol is a new bronchodilator which is also a reversible inhibitor of plasma cholinesterase. In patients with normal plasma cholinesterase genotype, bambuterol prolongs suxamethonium-induced neuromuscular blockade. In the present study, we investigated the interaction of bambuterol and suxamethonium in nine patients heterozygous for abnormal plasma cholinesterase during anaesthesia with fentanyl, thiopentone, halothane and nitrous oxide in oxygen. The patients (seven E1uE1a and two E1uE1s) were given 20 mg of bambuterol orally 2 h before anaesthesia. Suxamethonium 1 mg.kg-1 was given for tracheal intubation. The neuromuscular function was monitored using train-of-four (TOF) stimulation of the ulnar nerve and a force displacement transducer. Plasma cholinesterase activity decreased in all patients following bambuterol (P less than 0.001). In patients with genotype E1uE1a, median time to 90% recovery of twitch height and TOF ratio greater than or equal to 0.7 (37.5 min) was prolonged compared to 28 E1uE1a patients not treated with bambuterol (14.0 min) (P less than 0.001). Four of these patients developed a phase II block apparently not correlated to plasma cholinesterase activity. In the E1uE1s; patients, full recovery was seen after 22.0 and 31.4 min, respectively. It is concluded that in patients heterozygous for abnormal plasma cholinesterase, bambuterol 20 mg taken 2 h before anaesthesia causes a 2-3 times prolongation of the neuromuscular blockade following suxamethonium 1 mg.kg-1 and in some patients a phase II block.