In conventional mechanical ventilation, the inflation cycle often extends into neural expiration (TEN), potentially exacerbating dynamic hyperinflation (DH). We wished to determine the extent to which patients defend against DH when this happens. Such defense may include prolongation of TEN (timing response) and/or expiratory muscle recruitment (neuromuscular response). Fifty patients were ventilated in the Proportional Assist mode, allowing us to infer these responses noninvasively. At random intervals, exhalation of single breaths was delayed by briefly delaying the opening of exhalation valve (occlusion) (T(occ) = 0.78 +/- 0.34 seconds). Timing response was assessed from the change in TEN. Neuromuscular response was assessed from the difference between volume exhaled after release of occlusion and volume exhaled in unoccluded breaths over a similar expiratory flow duration (DeltaV(iso-time)). There was no evidence of an acute neuromuscular response; DeltaV(iso-time) averaged 0.005 +/- 0.023 L (NS). Forty-five of 50 patients significantly lengthened TEN. However, the timing response offset only 36 +/- 20% of the delay in expiration. Because of absent neuromuscular responses and weak timing responses, DH increased in most patients in postocclusion breaths (DeltaDH = 0.10 +/- 0.08 L, p = 2E-10). We conclude that acute compensatory responses to delays in opening of exhalation value are weak in ventilator-dependent patients. As a result, such nonsynchrony tends to exacerbate DH.