Journal of Applied Physiology


Ventilation (V), end-tidal PCO2 (PACO2), and CO2 elimination rate were measured in men at rest breathing CO2-free gas over the pressure range 1–50 ATA and the gas density range 0.4–25 g/l, during slow and rapid compressions, at stable elevated ambient pressures and during slow decompressions in several phases of Predictive Studies III-1971 and Predictive Studies IV-1975. Inspired O2 was at or near natural O2 levels during compressions and at stable high pressures; it was 0.5 ATA during decompressions. Rapid compressions to high pressures did not impair respiratory homeostasis. Progressive increase in pulmonary gas flow resistance due to elevation of ambient pressure and inspired gas density to the He-O2 equivalent of 5,000 feet of seawater was not observed to progressively decrease resting V, or to progressively increase resting PACO2. Rather, a complex pattern of change in PACO2 was seen. As both ambient pressure and pulmonary gas flow resistance were progressively raised, PACO2 at first increased, went through a maximum, and then declined towards values near the 1 ATA level. It is suggested that this pattern of PACO2 change results from interaction on ventilation of 1) increase in pulmonary resistance due to elevation of gas density with 2) increase in respiratory drive postulated as due to generalized CNS excitation associated with exposure to high hydrostatic pressure. There may be a similar interaction between increased gas flow resistance and increase in respiratory drive related to nitrogen partial pressure and the narcosis resulting therefrom.