The aim of this study was to compare the effects of modified porcine surfactant (Curosurf) given either by a simplified slow delivery technique or by the standard bolus method, on pulmonary gas exchange, lung mechanics, and surfactant distribution in rats with respiratory failure produced by lung lavage. Twelve rats with respiratory failure induced by lung lavage received 200 mg x kg(-1) body weight (b.w.) of tagged porcine surfactant, either by the standard bolus delivery technique or by a simplified 1-min intratracheal infusion method, not requiring interruption of mechanical ventilation. Cardiovascular parameters, arterial blood gases, and pulmonary mechanics were measured repeatedly. Surfactant distribution was also measured by dye-tagged microbead spheres. After surfactant administration, there were no overall major differences between groups in mean heart rate, blood pressure, arterial blood gases, dynamic lung compliance, respiratory system resistance, and pulmonary distribution of exogenous surfactant. However, after 180 min pulmonary gas exchange was better and compliance higher in the bolus than the 1-min infusion group. A transient decrease in blood pressure and heart rate was observed in the bolus group; this side effect was not seen in animals treated with the simplified 1-min infusion method. We conclude that in rats subjected to lung lavage, the infusion of porcine surfactant by a simplified 1-min procedure produced similar short-term effects compared to the same dose of surfactant given by the bolus method. We speculate that tracheal bolus dosing is highly effective and might be the preferable delivery method for porcine surfactant. Dosing by the simplified method described appears less effective, but since no significant differences were observed, and since it produced less acute adverse effects, it could be used when clinical circumstances preclude rapid delivery.