The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that using a 1:4 ratio of remifentanil to alfentanil, a remifentanil infusion would provide better suppression of intraoperative responses and comparable recovery profiles after ambulatory laparoscopic surgery than an alfentanil infusion, as part of total intravenous anesthesia. Two hundred ASA physical status I, II, or III adult patients participated in this multicenter, double-blind, parallel group study. Patients were randomly assigned 2:1 to either the remifentanil-propofol or alfentanil-propofol regimens. The anesthesia sequence was propofol (2 mg/kg intravenously [IV] followed by 150 micrograms.kg-1.min-1), and either remifentanil (1 microgram/kg IV followed by 0.5 microgram.kg-1.min-1)of alfentanil (20 micrograms/kg IV followed by 2 micrograms.kg-1.min-1), and vecuronium. After trocar insertion, infusion rates were decreased (propofol to 75 micrograms.kg-1.min-1; remifentanil to 0.25 microgram.kg-1.min-1; alfentanil to 1 microgram.kg-1.min-1). Alfentanil and propofol were discontinued at 10 and 5 min, respectively, before the anticipated end of surgery (last surgical suture); remifentanil was discontinued at the end of surgery. Recovery times were calculated from the end of surgery. The median duration of surgery was similar between groups (39 min for remifentanil versus 34 min for alfentanil). A smaller proportion of remifentanil patients than alfentanil patients had any intraoperative responses (53% vs 71%, P = 0.029), had responses to trocar insertion (11% vs 32%, P < 0.001), or required dosage adjustments during maintenance (24% vs 41%, P < 0.05). Early awakening times were similar. Remifentanil patients qualified for Phase 1 discharge later and were given postoperative analgesics sooner than alfentanil patients (P < 0.05). Actual discharge times from the ambulatory center were similar between groups (174 min for remifentanil versus 204 min for alfentanil) (P = 0.06). In conclusion, remifentanil can be used for maintenance of anesthesia in a 1:4 ratio compared with alfentanil, for total IV anesthesia in ambulatory surgery. This dose of remifentanil provides more effective suppression of intraoperative responses and does not result in prolonged awakening.