1. Using the mouth occlusion pressure technique, we have studied the control of breathing in seven hypercapnic and eight non-hypercapnic patients with chronic obstructive lung disease.

2. When breathing room air, pulmonary ventilation, mean inspiratory flow and P0·1 (mouth occlusion pressure developed 0·1 s after the onset of occluded inspiration at functional residual capacity) were not significantly different between the two groups of patients. Tidal volume, however, was significantly lower in the hypercapnic than in the non-hypercapnic patients, as a result of a significantly lower duration of inspiration.

3. The lower tidal volume in the hypercapnic patients leads to decreased alveolar ventilation, and appears to be the main cause of retention of carbon dioxide.

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