Forty-seven preterm infants, who were previously enrolled in a prospective, randomized, blinded study at birth to assess the effects of multiple doses of exogenous bovine surfactant to prevent respiratory distress syndrome, underwent lung function evaluation and review of their medical histories at 2 1/2 years of age. During their initial hospitalization there were no differences between the 17 control infants and the 30 surfactant-treated infants in the duration of ventilator or oxygen therapy and the incidence of bronchopulmonary dysplasia. At the follow-up both groups were similar in chronological and corrected ages, weights, lengths, and sex ratios and there were no differences in the occurrence of allergy, asthma, bronchiolitis, eczema, pneumonia, and wheezing. In addition, there was no significant difference regarding the incidence of chest illnesses lasting either 3 or 7 days and in the total number of required rehospitalizations. Functional residual capacity (FRC), tidal volume (VT/kg), compliance (Crs/kg), resistance (Rrs), and time constant of the respiratory system were not significantly different between the two groups at 2 1/2 years of age. We conclude that bovine surfactant, when given during the neonatal period, has little long-term effect on lung function. Neonatal bovine surfactant therapy neither improves nor produces any adverse effects on the developing respiratory system.