1. In a double-blind placebo-controlled study, we have investigated the effect of the peripheral chemoreceptor stimulant drug almitrine bismesylate on hypoxic ventilatory drive (expressed as the slope of the minute ventilation/arterial oxygen saturation relationship in litres min−1 %−1) as measured by both progressive isocapnic hypoxia at rest and transient hypoxia (three breaths of 100% N2) during moderate exercise, in seven normal men, to determine if the ventilatory response to the transient hypoxic stimulus is a more specific measure of peripheral chemoreceptor sensitivity to hypoxia.
2. Hypoxic ventilatory drive measured using progressive isocapnic hypoxia ranged from −0.13 to −2.65 litres min−1 % −1 after placebo and from − 0.20 to − 6.48 litres min−1 %−1 after almitrine. The response was greater after almitrine in six of the seven subjects, and the difference was significant for the whole group (P < 0.05).
3. Hypoxic ventilatory drive measured using transient hypoxia ranged from −0.19 to −1.59 litres min−1 %−1 after placebo and from −0.09 to −1.62 litres min−1 %−1 after almitrine. The response was not consistently greater after almitrine, and the difference was not significant for the group.
4. Difficulties in accurately quantifying a brief rise in minute ventilation after transient hypoxia, particularly in subjects with a low hypoxic ventilatory drive, may have masked small changes in the slope of the minute ventilation/arterial oxygen saturation relationship with this method. However, the significant increase in the response to progressive isocapnic hypoxia after almitrine suggests that the failure to demonstrate an effect using transient hypoxic stimuli was not solely due to between-day variation in hypoxic ventilatory drive or the small numbers of subjects studied.
5. We conclude that, although transient hypoxia avoids any central depression of ventilation that might result from the prolonged hypoxia used in the conventional steady state or progressive isocapnic methods (thereby leading to underestimation of the hypoxic ventilatory drive), the ventilatory response to such transient stimuli is also affected by factors other than peripheral chemoreceptor activity.