1. We have studied the carotid body contribution to hypoxic respiratory drive, using a hypoxic/hyperoxic switching technique, and the ventilatory response to intravenous infusion of adenosine, a recently described respiratory stimulant, in five patients with bilateral carotid endarterectomy.
2. The contribution made by the carotid bodies to total ventilatory drive during hypoxia varied from 2.5% to 45.9%.
3. The ventilatory response to adenosine infusion varied from a 7% decrease to a 25% increase in ventilation.
4. Those patients with intact hypoxic ventilatory drive showed respiratory stimulation, whereas of the two patients with attenuated chemoreflexes, one showed no stimulation and the other depression of ventilation in response to adenosine infusion.
5. We conclude that adenosine exerts its respiratory stimulant effect via an action on the peripheral chemoreceptors. This may coexist with a centrally mediated respiratory depression that is masked when the carotid bodies are intact.