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Alveolar macrophages are a critical part of the defense against pulmonary infection. Thus the authors determined time-dependent changes in alveolar macrophage functions in patients having surgery who were anesthetized with isoflurane or propofol.Patients anesthetized with propofol (n = 30) or isoflurane (n = 30) during orthopedic surgery were studied. Alveolar macrophages were harvested by bronchoalveolar lavage immediately, and 2, 4, and 6 h after induction anesthesia and at the end of surgery. The fraction of aggregated and nonviable macrophages was determined. Then phagocytosis was measured by ingestion of opsonized and unopsonized particles. Finally, microbicidal activity was determined as the ability of the macrophages to kill Listeria monocytogenes directly.Demographic and morphometric characteristics of the patients given propofol and isoflurane were similar, as were their levels of pulmonary function and hemodynamic responses. The fraction of alveolar macrophages ingesting opsonized and unopsonized particles, and the number of particles ingested, decreased significantly over time, with the decrease slightly but significantly greater during isoflurane anesthesia. Microbicidal function decreased progressively during anesthesia and surgery, with the decrease almost twice as great during isoflurane compared with propofol anesthesia. The fraction of aggregated macrophages and recovered neutrophils increased over time in the patients given each anesthetic.Pulmonary immunologic function changed progressively during anesthesia and surgery. The data from this study suggest that pulmonary defenses are modulated by the type of anesthesia and by the duration of anesthesia and surgery.