BACKGROUND One-lung ventilation during thoracic surgery is associated with hypoxia-reoxygenation injury in the deflated and subsequently reventilated lung. Numerous studies have reported volatile anesthesia-induced attenuation of inflammatory responses in such scenarios. If the effect also extends to clinical outcome is yet undetermined. We hypothesized that volatile anesthesia is superior to intravenous anesthesia regarding postoperative complications. METHODS Five centers in Switzerland participated in the randomized controlled trial. Patients scheduled for lung surgery with one-lung ventilation were randomly assigned to one of two parallel arms to receive either propofol or desflurane as general anesthetic. Patients and surgeons were blinded to group allocation. Time to occurrence of the first major complication according to the Clavien-Dindo score was defined as primary (during hospitalization) or secondary (6-month follow-up) endpoint. Cox regression models were used with adjustment for prestratification variables and age. RESULTS Of 767 screened patients, 460 were randomized and analyzed (n = 230 for each arm). Demographics, disease and intraoperative characteristics were comparable in both groups. Incidence of major complications during hospitalization was 16.5% in the propofol and 13.0% in the desflurane groups (hazard ratio for desflurane vs. propofol, 0.75; 95% CI, 0.46 to 1.22; P = 0.24). Incidence of major complications within 6 months from surgery was 40.4% in the propofol and 39.6% in the desflurane groups (hazard ratio for desflurane vs. propofol, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.71 to 1.28; P = 0.71). CONCLUSIONS This is the first multicenter randomized controlled trial addressing the effect of volatile versus intravenous anesthetics on major complications after lung surgery. No difference between the two anesthesia regimens was evident.