Our aim was to determine whether panic disorder (PD) patients, major depressive patients without panic attacks (MD) and major depressive patients with panic attacks (MDP) respond similarly to hyperventilation challenge tests. We randomly selected 35 PD patients, 33 MDP patients, 27 MD patients and 30 normal volunteers with no family history of anxiety or mood disorder. The patients had not been treated with psychotropic drugs for at least 1 week. They were induced to hyperventilate (30 breaths/min) for 4 min, and anxiety was assessed before and after the test. A total of 16 (45.7%) PD patients, 12 (36.4%) MDP patients, four (11.1%) MD patients, and two (6.7%) normal volunteers had a panic attack after hyperventilating. The PD and MDP patients were significantly more responsive to hyperventilation than the MD patients and the normal volunteers. The MD patients had a significantly lower heart-rate response to the test than all the other groups. There is growing evidence that PD patients are more sensitive to the vasoconstrictive effects on basilar arterial blood flow caused by hyperventilation-induced hypocapnia than are comparison subjects. Our data suggest that there is an association between panic attacks and hyperreactivity to an acute hyperventilation challenge test.