BACKGROUND: Intraoperative monitoring of neuronal function is important in a variety of surgeries. The type of general anaesthetic used can affect the interpretation and quality of such recordings. Although the principal effects of general anaesthetics are synaptically mediated, the extent to which they affect excitability of the peripheral afferent nervous system is unclear. METHODS: Forty subjects were randomized in a stratified manner into two groups, anaesthetized with either propofol or sevoflurane. The threshold tracking technique (QTRAC(®)) was used to measure nerve excitability parameters of the sensory action potential of the median nerve before and after induction of general anaesthesia. RESULTS: Several parameters of peripheral sensory afferent nerve excitability changed after induction of general anaesthesia, which were similar for both propofol and sevoflurane. The maximum amplitude of the sensory nerve action potential decreased in both groups (propofol: 25.3%; sevoflurane: 29.5%; both P<0.01). The relative refractory period [mean (sd)] also decreased similarly in both groups [propofol: -0.6 (0.7) ms; sevoflurane: -0.3 (0.5) ms; both P<0.01]. Skin temperature at the stimulation site increased significantly in both groups [propofol: +1.2 (1.0)°C; sevoflurane: +1.7 (1.4)°C; both P<0.01]. CONCLUSIONS: Small changes in excitability of primary sensory afferents after the induction of anaesthesia with propofol or sevoflurane were detected. These effects, which were non-specific and are possibly explained by changes observed in temperature, demonstrate possible anaesthetic effects on intraoperative neuromonitoring.