This study was directed at assessing changes in bronchial cross-sectional surface areas (BCSA) and in respiratory resistance induced by endotracheal suctioning in nine anesthetized sheep. Cardiorespiratory parameters (Swan-Ganz catheter), respiratory resistance (inspiratory occlusion technique), BCSA, and lung aeration (computed tomography) were studied at baseline, during endotracheal suctioning, and after 20 consecutive hyperinflations. Measurements performed initially at an inspired oxygen fraction (FI(O(2))) of 0.3 were repeated at an FI(O(2)) of 1.0. At an FI(O(2)) of 0.3, endotracheal suctioning resulted in atelectasis, a reduction in BCSA of 29 +/- 23% (mean +/- SD), a decrease in arterial oxygen saturation from 95 +/- 3% to 87 +/- 12% (p = 0.02), an increase in venous admixture from 19 +/- 10% to 31 +/- 19% (p = 0. 006), and an increase in lung tissue resistance (DR(rs)) (p = 0. 0003). At an FI(O(2)) of 1.0, despite an extension of atelectasis and an increase in pulmonary shunt from 19 +/- 5% to 36 +/- 2% (p < 0.0001), arterial O(2) desaturation was prevented and BCSA decreased by only 7 +/- 32%. A recruitment maneuver after endotracheal suctioning entirely reversed the suctioning-induced increase in DR(rs) and atelectasis. In three lidocaine-pretreated sheep, the endotracheal suctioning-induced reduction of BCSA was entirely prevented. These data suggest that the endotracheal suctioning-induced decrease in BCSA is related to atelectasis and bronchoconstriction. Both effects can be reversed by hyperoxygenation maneuver before suctioning in combination with recruitment maneuver after suctioning.