Surgical procedures on the vertebral column may result in spinal cord damage, leading to neurological deficits that demand immediate therapeutical intervention. We designed this study to determine which anesthetic regimen allows a rapid wake-up test during and after surgery to detect neurological deficits. Fifty-four patients were randomly allocated to the following groups: group PR (propofol/remifentanil): target-controlled infusion with propofol (plasma concentration, 2-4 microg/mL) and remifentanil 0.2-0.5 microg . kg(-1) . min(-1); group PS (propofol/sufentanil): propofol (2-4 microg/mL) and repetitive boluses of 0.1-0.2 microg/kg of sufentanil adjusted to patients requirements; and group DR (desflurane/remifentanil): desflurane/air 3.0-4.0 vol% combined with remifentanil 0.2-0.5 microg . kg(-1) . min(-1). Group PS required significantly longer times for the onset of breathing (8.9 +/- 1.6 min), elevation of the head (17.0 +/- 3.8 min), and motion of the feet (17.0 +/- 7.4 min) than group PR (6.9 +/- 2.6 min, 9.3 +/- 2.2 min, and 9.4 +/- 2.4 min, respectively) or group DR (5.4 +/- 0.8 min, 6.1 +/- 1.0 min, and 6.2 +/- 1.0 min, respectively). The anesthetic regimen with desflurane and remifentanil allowed faster awakening during and after surgery that permitted immediate neurological examination after spinal surgery compared with propofol/remifentanil.