Mechanical ventilation may interfere with the spontaneous breathing pattern in infants because they have strong reflexes that play a large role in the control of breathing. This study aimed to answer the following questions: does a ventilator-assisted breath 1) reduce neural inspiratory time, 2) reduce the amplitude of the diaphragm electrical activity, and 3) prolong neural expiration, within the delivered breath? In 14 infants recovering from acute respiratory failure (mean age and weight were 2.3 +/- 1.3 mo and 3.95 +/- 0.82 kg, respectively), we measured 1) the electrical activity of the diaphragm with a multiple-array esophageal electrode, and 2) airway opening pressure, while patients breathed on synchronized intermittent mandatory ventilation (mean rate, 11.2 +/- 6.5 breaths/min). We compared neural inspiratory and expiratory times for the mandatory breaths and for the spontaneous breaths immediately preceding and following the mandatory breath. Although neural inspiratory time was not different between mandatory and spontaneous breaths, neural expiratory time was significantly increased (p < 0.001) for the mandatory breaths (953 +/- 449 ms) compared with the premandatory and postmandatory spontaneous breaths (607 +/- 268 ms and 560 +/- 227 ms, respectively). Delivery of the mandatory breath resulted in a reduction in neural respiratory frequency by 28.6 +/- 6.4% from the spontaneous premandatory frequency. The magnitude of inspiratory electrical activity of the diaphragm was similar for all three breath conditions. For the mandatory breaths, ventilatory assist persisted for 507 +/- 169 ms after the end of neural inspiratory time. Infant-ventilator asynchrony (both inspiratory and expiratory asynchrony) was present in every mandatory breath and constituted 53.4 +/- 26.2% of the total breath duration.