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A recent randomized trial of mechanical ventilation in acute lung injury (ALI)/adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) demonstrated a 22% relative reduction in mortality rate using 6 mL/kg predicted body weight tidal volume vs. 12 mL/kg predicted body weight tidal volume. We determined whether publication of these findings changed clinical practice.Retrospective cohort, 12 months before (Pre) and 12 months after publication (Post) of a randomized trial supporting the use of a 6 mL/kg predicted body weight tidal volume strategy.Three tertiary care hospitals in northern New England.From a sample of 943 patients receiving prolonged mechanical ventilation between 1998 and 1999 (Pre) and between 2000 and 2001 (Post), 300 patients meeting the American-European Consensus Conference definition of ALI or ARDS were selected for analysis.The tidal volume, tidal volume/kg predicted body weight, and proportion receiving tidal volume/kg ≥6 mL/kg and ≤12 mL/kg predicted body weight were recorded at noon the first day after the diagnosis of ALI or ARDS was established.Pre and Post mean tidal volume (± sd) size and tidal volume size/kg predicted body weight were 759 ± 158 mL (median 750 mL) vs. 639 ± 138 mL (median 600 mL, p < .001) and 12.3 ± 2.7 mL/kg (median 11.7 mL/kg) vs. 10.6 ± 2.4 mL/kg (median 10.7 mL/kg, p < .001) respectively. Pre and Post plateau pressures and peak airway pressures were similar.Publication of a trial demonstrating large mortality reductions using small tidal volume was associated with significant reductions in tidal volume delivered to patients with ALI/ARDS. However, wide variation in practice persists, and the proportion of patients receiving tidal volumes within recommended limits (≤8 mL/kg) remains modest.