BACKGROUND Xenon, an inert gas with anesthetic properties (minimum alveolar concentration [MAC] = 71%), has an extremely low blood:gas partition coefficient (0.14). Therefore, we predicted that xenon would provide more rapid emergence from anesthesia than does N2O+isoflurane or N2O+sevoflurane of equivalent MAC. METHODS Thirty American Society of Anesthsiologists class I or II patients undergoing total abdominal hysterectomy were randomly assigned to receive 60% xenon, 60% N2O + 0.5% isoflurane, or 60% N2O + 0.70% sevoflurane (all concentrations are end-tidal: n = 10 per group). After placement of an epidural catheter, anesthesia was induced with standardized doses of midazolam, thiopental, and fentanyl. Thirty minutes later, xenon, N2O+isoflurane, or N2O+sevoflurane was started as previously assigned. These regimens were supplemented with epidural anesthesia with mepivacaine so that the mean arterial pressure and heart rate were controlled within 20% of the preoperative values. At the end of operation lasting approximately 2 h, all inhalational anesthetics were discontinued, and the patients were allowed to awaken while breathing spontaneously on an 8 l/min inflow of oxygen. A blinded investigator recorded the time until the patient opened her eyes on command (T1), was judged ready for extubation (T2), could correctly state her name, her date of birth, and the name of the hospital (T3), and could count backward from 10 to 1 in less than 15 s (T4). RESULTS Emergence times from xenon anesthesia were: T1, 3.4 +/- 0.9 min; T2, 3.6 +/- 1 min; T3, 5.2 +/- 1.4 min; and T4, 6.0 +/- 1.6 min (mean +/- SD). These were one half to one third of those from N2O+sevoflurane (T1, 6.0 +/- 1.7 min; T4, 10.5 +/- 2.5 min) or N2O+isoflurane (T1, 7.0 +/- 1.9 min; T4, 14.3 +/- 2.8 min) anesthesia. The three groups did not differ in terms of patient demographics, the duration of anesthesia, the amount of epidural mepivacaine administered, or the postoperative pain rating. No patient could recalls intraoperative events. CONCLUSIONS Emergence from xenon anesthesia is two or three times faster than that from equal-MAC N2O+isoflurane or N2O+sevoflurane anesthesia.