The effects of different anaesthetics on the neutrophil oxidative response in vitro are compared. Neutrophils were stimulated with small amounts of the bacterial peptide N-formyl-L-methionyl-L-leucyl-phenylalanine as a physiological, receptor-dependent stimulus. A new flow cytometry-based method capable of detecting the small amounts of H2O2 generated by neutrophils in a heterogenous all-or-none response following submaximal stimulation with N-formyl-L-methionyl-L-leucyl-phenylalanine was used. Propofol and thiopentone suppressed the respiratory burst significantly (P < 0.05 and P < 0.01) in therapeutic concentrations, while midazolam and methohexitone inhibited significantly (P < 0.01) only at concentrations greater than the therapeutic range. Impairment of the neutrophil response was primarily because of a reduction in the number of neutrophils participating in the respiratory burst and not of a proportional decrease of the fluorescence of all neutrophils.