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Animal studies have shown that induction of cytochrome P450 (CYP) in the lung by oxygen exposure may result in the release of free radical oxidants and arachidonic acid metabolites, which can cause lung injury that is reduced by treatment with cimetidine, a CYP inhibitor. To determine whether cimetidine would reduce lung injury in human infants at risk for chronic lung disease, we conducted a randomized clinical trial in which we administered either cimetidine or a placebo for 10 d beginning < 24 h after birth to 84 newborn infants weighing < or = 1250 g who were receiving O2 and mechanical ventilation. Cimetidine had no significant effect on severity of respiratory insufficiency assessed at 10 d postnatal age. F2-isoprostane levels (a marker of oxidant injury) in tracheal aspirates were significantly higher in the cimetidine group at 4 d and at 10 d. There were no significant differences between the groups in tracheal aspirate levels of inflammatory markers (leukotriene B4, IL-8, and nucleated cell count) or arachidonic acid metabolites. We conclude that cimetidine does not reduce lung injury in newborn premature infants receiving O2 and mechanical ventilation. It is possible that cimetidine was not an adequate CYP inhibitor in this context.