Heparin attachment to synthetic surfaces is one means of improving the biocompatibility of clinically used cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) circuits. To assess the effect of heparin-coated circuits on complement consumption during CPB, 40 patients undergoing elective myocardial revascularization were prospectively randomized either to a group in which a completely Duraflo II heparin-coated circuit was used for perfusion (heparin-coated Group, n = 20 patients) or to a control group (n = 20 patients) in which an uncoated, but otherwise standard circuit was used. Full systemic heparinization was induced (activated clotting time, 480 seconds) in all the patients included in the study, regardless of which perfusion circuit was used. The two groups did not differ significantly in terms of bodyweight, aortic crossclamp and extracorporeal circulation times. No patient had difficulty in weaning from bypass and the postoperative period was uneventful in all patients. Concentrations of C3 and C4 were found to be within the 'normal' range in the prebypass period in both groups. There were no significant intergroup differences with regard to C3 and C4 consumption during CPB. We conclude that Duraflo II heparin-coated circuits have no effect in reducing complement consumption during CPB in fully heparinized patients.