1. The ventilatory responses to transient and steady-state hypoxia were measured in ten patients with hepatic cirrhosis and in ten healthy control subjects. Successive measurements of these responses were also obtained in six goats before and after the experimental production of liver failure. Changes in the effect of steady-state hypoxia on the ventilatory response to hypercapnia were evaluated by successive studies in another goat.
2. In spite of a respiratory alkalosis during liver failure, the response to transient hypoxia was greater in the patients than in the control subjects. This response was increased after the onset of liver failure in all the goats.
3. In healthy humans and goats the responses to transient and steady-state hypoxia were similar in magnitude. During liver failure there was a disparity between the size of these responses, since the ventilatory increment evoked by steady-state hypoxia was unchanged in spite of the increase in response to transient hypoxia. Steady-state hypoxia consistently enhanced the ventilatory response to hypercapnia in a healthy goat, but frequently depressed the response to hypercapnia during liver failure.
4. The findings suggest that liver failure heightens the sensitivity of the peripheral chemoreceptors to the hypoxic stimulus, but may increase the tendency of the medullary centres to become depressed in hypoxia.