Thirty preterm infants (birth weight < 1500 gm) treated with Surfactant TA for the respiratory distress syndrome, who had no complicating clinical problems other than ductal patency, were studied by serial Doppler flow examinations to determine the effects of early left-to-right shunt through the patent ductus arteriosus on the left ventricular output and organ blood flows. Doppler flow variables in 15 infants with a hemodynamically significant patent ductus arteriosus (hsPDA) were compared with those in 15 subjects without hsPDA matched for age, body weight, and gestational age. Infants with hsPDA had significantly higher left ventricular output and significantly lower blood flow volume in the abdominal aorta, and lower temporal mean blood flow velocities, with concomitant increases in the relative vascular resistance in the celiac artery, superior mesenteric artery, and renal artery. Pulsatility indexes of these vessels and the anterior cerebral artery were significantly higher in the hsPDA group, but the temporal mean blood flow velocities in the anterior cerebral artery and its vascular resistance were not significantly different between the two groups. After closure of the patent ductus arterious was achieved with mefenamic acid therapy, alterations in Doppler flow variables in the hsPDA group reverted to the levels seen in the group without hsPDA. These results suggest that despite large left-to-right ductal shunting, the heart of the preterm infant is capable of mounting a compensatory increase of cardiac output sufficient to maintain unchanged cerebral blood flow, but is unable to maintain postductal organ blood flows because of decreased perfusion pressure (ductal steal) and localized increase in vascular resistance.