At clinically relevant concentrations, volatile anaesthetic agents influence neutrophil function. Our hypothesis was that sevoflurane would inhibit neutrophil apoptosis and consequently influence the postoperative pro-inflammatory state. In order to identify selectively the effect of the anaesthetic agent sevoflurane, we studied patients undergoing minimally stimulating (cataract) surgery randomly allocated to receive either sevoflurane (n=11) or local anaesthesia (n=12). Venous blood samples were taken immediately prior to anaesthesia and at 1, 8 and 24 h thereafter. The rate of neutrophil apoptosis, plasma concentration of cytokines and differential white cell count were measured. The rates of neutrophil apoptosis and plasma concentrations of IL-1β, TNF-α and IL-8 at each time point were similar in the two groups. IL-6 concentrations increased significantly and to a similar extent compared to preanaesthetic levels at 8 and 24 h. This study demonstrates that sevoflurane does not influence the rate of neutrophil apoptosis, cytokine concentrations and neutrophil count following cataract surgery.