Little information is available regarding the effect of surfactant on outcome for infants born at or before 26 weeks of gestation. We addressed this issue by reviewing records of 310 infants born at gestational ages of 23 through 26 weeks who were admitted to our nursery from 1986, when surfactant was introduced, through 1990. Surfactant was administered to 154 infants (5 during a single-dose prevention study, 25 during a multiple-dose prevention study, 124 while receiving a Food and Drug Administration treatment investigational new drug); 156 infants were not treated with surfactant. Seventy-three percent of the treated infants survived, compared with 55% of the nontreated infants. Increased survival occurred at all gestational ages between 23 and 26 weeks but were greatest in infants born at 23 and 24 weeks. At follow-up, no differences in neurologic outcome were detected between surfactant-treated and nontreated infants. We conclude that surfactant use in extremely premature infants improves survival rates without increasing the proportion of impaired survivors.