1. The use of pulmonary surfactant has been proposed as a vehicle for antibiotic delivery to the alveolar compartment of the lung. This study investigated survival rates of mice with a respiratory Klebsiella pneumoniae infection treated intratracheally with tobramycin using a natural exogenous surfactant preparation as vehicle. 2. At day 1 after infection, animals were injected intratracheally with 20 microliters of the following solutions: (1) a mixture of surfactant (500 micrograms) and tobramycin (250 micrograms); (2) tobramycin (250 micrograms) alone; (3) surfactant (500 micrograms) alone; and (4) NaHCO3 buffer (control, sham-treatment). A fifth group received no treatment (control). Deaths were registered every 12 h for 8 consecutive days. 3. The results show an increased survival in the group receiving the surfactant-tobramycin mixture compared to the group receiving tobramycin alone (P < 0.05), the group receiving surfactant alone (P < 0.01) and the control groups (P < 0.01). It is concluded that intratracheal instillation of surfactant-tobramycin is superior to tobramycin alone in protecting animals from death due to a respiratory Klebsiella pneumoniae infection.