Lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS) improves exercise capacity and relieves dyspnoea in patients with smoker's emphysema (SE). It is unclear, however, whether LVRS similarly improves lung function in alpha1-antitrypsin-deficiency emphysema (alpha1 E). To address this question, this study prospectively compared the intermediate-term functional outcome in 12 consecutive patients with advanced alpha1E and 18 patients with SE who underwent bilateral LVRS. Before surgery there were no statistically significant differences between the two groups in the six-minute walking distance, dyspnoea score, respiratory mechanics or lung function data, except for the forced expiratory volume in one second, which was lower in the deficient group (24 versus 31% of the predicted value; p<0.05). In both groups, bilateral LRVS produced significant improvements in dyspnoea, the six-minute walking distance, lung function and respiratory mechanics. In the alpha1E group, the functional data, with the exception of the six-minute walking distance, returned to baseline at 6-12 months postoperation and showed further deterioration at 24 months. The functional status of the SE group remained significantly improved over this period. In conclusion, the functional improvements resulting from bilateral lung volume reduction surgery are sustained for at least 2 yrs in most patients with smoker's emphysema, but this type of surgery offers only short-term benefits for most patients with alpha1E.