To understand ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI) during positive pressure ventilation, mechanisms of normal alveolar mechanics must first be established. Isotropic "balloonlike" alveolar volume (VA) change has been viewed as the prevailing mechanism of normal lung volume (VL) changes. We hypothesized that change in VL is predominantly caused by alveolar recruitment-derecruitment (R/D). Fifteen mongrel dogs were anesthetized and intubated with a tracheal divider. Through a thoracotomy incision, in vivo microscopy of subpleural alveoli was performed as the degassed lung was inflated to 80% TLC, and then deflated to residual volume (RV). Still photomicrographs were evaluated to determine if change in VL is due to change in VA or R/D of alveoli. We noted a steady, significant increase in alveolar recruitment as VL increased to 80% TLC (p < 0.05). However, VA increased significantly, but only to 20% TLC (p < 0.05). Once recruited, alveoli did not demonstrate any further volume change, whereas the lung as a whole maintained a normal pressure/volume relationship. In our model, changes in VL predominantly are caused by R/D.