Pulmonary microvascular injury has become a recently studied phenomenon that may be responsible for most of the complications associated with the lungs. Thirty patients undergoing partial hemilaminectomy or discectomy due to hernia of nucleus pulposus underwent Tc-99m HMPAO lung clearance as well as Tc-99m pertechnetate lung scintigraphy pre-operatively, and following general anaesthesia with halothane and isoflurane (third, fourth and tenth post-operative days). The results were compared with conventional techniques and haemodynamic parameters during the peri-operative period. In order to demonstrate acute phase changes under general anaesthesia and to perform pathological examinations, 21 New Zealand rabbits underwent radionuclide studies with Tc-99m HMPAO or Tc-99m pertechnetate. Lung biopsies were also performed Despite no significant differences in any of the conventional diagnostic techniques, Tc-99m pertechnetate lung scintigraphy was performed for both the halothane and isoflurane groups, and Tc-99m HMPAO lung clearance was performed for the isoflurane group pre- or post-operatively. Tc-99m HMPAO lung clearance was impaired significantly in the halothane group on the third post-operative day (half time: 6.4 +/- 1.6 pre-operative and 13.76 +/- 3.3 s, P<0.001) decreasing to pre-operative levels on the tenth post-operative day. Acute phase exposure to halothane was characterized with extremely abnormal Tc-99m HMPAO lung clearance in rabbits with respect to isoflurane, diminishing to control levels on the third day (half time: 8.7 +/- 86 control and 28.65 +/- 4.6, P<0.001). Pathological examinations also demonstrated endothelial damage on acute exposure in the halothane group.