We performed an open, prospective, randomized clinical trial in 51 patients receiving mechanical ventilation for more than 72 h, in order to evaluate the impact of using either invasive (protected specimen brush [PSB] and bronchoalveolar lavage [BAL] via fiberoptic bronchoscopy) or noninvasive (quantitative endotracheal aspirates [QEA]) diagnostic methods on the morbidity and mortality of ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP). Patients were randomly assigned to two groups: Group A patients (n = 24) underwent QEA, PSB, and BAL; Group B patients (n = 27) underwent only QEA cultures. Empiric antibiotic treatment was given according to the attending physician and was modified according to the results of cultures and sensitivity in Group A using PSB and BAL results and in Group B based upon QEA cultures. Bacteriologic cultures were done quantitatively for EA, PSB, and BAL. Thresholds of > or = 10(5), > or = 10(3), and > or = 10(4) CFU/ml were used for QEA, PSB, and BAL, respectively. Microbial cultures from Group A patients were positive in 16 (67%) BAL samples, 14 (58%) PSB samples, and 16 (67%) QEA samples. In Group B patients, QEA microbial cultures yielded positive results in 20 of 27 (74%) samples. In Group A, there was total agreement between culture results of the three techniques on 17 (71%) occasions. In five (21%) cases, QEA coincided with either BAL or PBS. In only two (8%) cases, QEA cultures did not coincide with either PSB or BAL. No cases of positive BAL or PSB cultures had negative QEA cultures. Initial antibiotic treatment was modified in 10 (42%) patients from Group A and in four (16%) patients from Group B (p < 0.05). The observed crude mortality rate was 11 of 24 (46%) in Group A, and 7 of 27 (26%) in Group B, whereas the adjusted mortality rates (observed crude minus predicted at admission) for Groups A and B were 29 and 10%, respectively. There were no statistically significant differences when comparing crude and adjusted mortality rates of Groups A and B. There were no differences in mortality between both groups when comparing pneumonia, considering together Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Acinetobacter spp. (Group A, 33% versus Group B, 27%). There were no differences between Groups A and B with regard to ICU stay duration and total duration of mechanical ventilation. In this pilot study, the impact of bronchoscopy was to lead to more frequent antibiotic changes with no change in mortality. Further studies with larger population samples are warranted to confirm these findings.