Based on epidemiological data and genetic association studies, neonatal respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) is a complex disease with a multigenic background. The genes coding for surfactant proteins (SP) A and B have been assigned as the most likely genes in the etiology of RDS. The major factor predisposing to RDS is prematurity, and thus the phenotype of a very premature newborn infant that does not develop the disease can be regarded as hypernormal. Altogether 107 father-mother-offspring trios were divided into two sets according to the proband's phenotype, to evaluate familial segregation of candidate gene polymorphisms by the transmission disequilibrium test. A set of 76 trios were analyzed for transmission disequilibrium from parents to affected offspring. Another set of 31 trios were studied for allele transmission from parents to hypernormal offspring born very prematurely before the gestational age of 32 weeks. SP-A1-A2 haplotype 6A(2)-1A(0) showed significant excess transmission to affected infants and SP-A1 allele 6A(2) decreased transmission to the hypernormals. The present family study provides strong support for a direct or indirect role of the SP-A alleles as genetic predisposers to RDS in premature infants. The inclusion of parent-hypernormal offspring trios in transmission disequilibrium test is a useful approach to test for genetic protection against a disease.