We have previously hypothesised that the number of bubbles evolving during decompression from a dive, and therefore the incidence of decompression sickness (DCS), might be reduced by pretreatment with hyperbaric oxygen (HBO). The inert gas in the gas micronuclei would be replaced by oxygen, which would subsequently be consumed by the mitochondria. This has been demonstrated in the transparent prawn. To investigate whether our hypothesis holds for mammals, we pretreated rats with HBO at 304, 405, or 507 kPa for 20 min, after which they were exposed to air at 1,013 kPa for 33 min and decompressed at 202 kPa/min. Twenty control rats were exposed to air at 1,013 kPa for 32 min, without HBO pretreatment. On reaching the surface, the rat was immediately placed in a rotating cage for 30 min. The animal's behaviour enabled us to make an early diagnosis of DCS according to accepted symptoms. Rats were examined again after 2 and 24 h. After 2 h, 65% of the control rats had suffered DCS (45% were dead), whereas 35% had no DCS. HBO pretreatment at 304, 405 and 507 kPa significantly reduced the incidence of DCS at 2 h to 40, 40 and 35%, respectively. Compared with the 45% mortality rate in the control group after 24 h, in all of the pretreated groups this was 15%. HBO pretreatment is equally effective at 304, 405 or 507 kPa, bringing about a significant reduction in the incidence of DCS in rats decompressed from 1,013 kPa.