Lung transplantation is limited by a shortage of suitable donors. To address this shortage, we have begun using donor lungs that do not meet all of our previous rigorous donor criteria. Of 133 consecutive lung transplants done between June 1991 and March 1994, 89 donors were considered ideal because they satisfied all of the following accepted donor criteria (group I): age younger than 55 years, smoking less than 20 pack-years, arterial oxygen tension greater than 300 mm Hg (using inspired oxygen fraction of 1.0 and positive end-expiratory pressure 5 cm H2O), and chest radiograph negative for infiltrate or trauma (contusion or pneumothorax). Thirty-seven donors failed to satisfy one of these criteria and seven donors failed to satisfy two of them, yielding 51 criteria denoting marginal status in the 44 donors in the marginal group (group II) as follows: age older than 55 years, 2; smoking history 20 or more pack-years, 9; unsatisfactory chest radiograph, 34; and arterial oxygen tension less than 300 mm Hg, 6. Sixty-three single lung transplants were done (group I, 44 versus group II, 19) compared with 70 bilateral sequential transplants (group I, 45 versus group II, 25). In 24 cases in group II, at least one of the lungs actually being implanted contained contusion or infiltrate. Evaluation of recipients from the two groups showed no significant difference in median duration of postoperative mechanical ventilation (3 days in both group I and group II) nor in alveolar-arterial oxygen gradient immediately after transplantation (group I, 304 +/- 14 mm Hg versus group II, 275 +/- 22 mm Hg; p = 0.266) or at 24 hours (group I, 125 +/- 12 mm Hg versus group II, 122 +/- 18 mm Hg; p = 0.933) (all values represent mean plus or minus the standard error). However, cardiopulmonary bypass was required to facilitate second graft insertion in bilateral sequential transplants more often in the marginal group (5 of 25, 20%) than in group I (6 of 45, 13%). There were three deaths within 30 days in group I (operative mortality, 3.4%) and none in group II. Currently, 74 (83.2%) of 89 remain alive in group I compared with 38 (86.4%) of 44 in group II. On the basis of these data, we conclude that successful outcome of lung transplantation can be achieved with the use of marginal donor lungs.