Alterations have been found to occur in every component of immune response during anaesthesia and surgery. These alterations represent the body's general physiological responses and are mainly dependent on the extent of surgery, as well as other factors such as the patient's age and health status, medication and blood transfusion. Anaesthetic and operative complications have profound effects on these responses. Basically, the immune response to anaesthesia and surgery is a beneficial reaction, needed in local host defences and wound healing and in preventing the body from making autoantibodies against its own tissues. The responses may, however, contribute to the development of postoperative infections and spread of malignant disease. During uncomplicated conventional surgery, the immune response usually passes clinically unnoticed without any harmful effects. Absent responses and excessively high responses, on the other hand, harm the patient. Our understanding of immunological phenomena and our possibilities of controlling mediator activation are now lagging behind the technical advances made in operative treatment. If we want to decrease operative morbidity and mortality to below their present levels, more attention should be directed to immune responses to major surgery, injuries and operative complications with massive mediator release which place the surgical patient at risk. Experimental evidence suggests that results of treatment in injured and operated patients can in the future be improved by controlling immune responses and their mediator systems. Our current level of knowledge of immune responses is already helping us to avoid many immune-mediated complications. However, routine interference with these responses is not indicated.