Morbidly obese individuals may have altered pulmonary diffusion during exercise. The purpose of this study was to examine pulmonary diffusing capacity for nitric oxide (DLNO) and carbon monoxide (DLCO) during exercise in these subjects. Ten morbidly obese subjects (age = 38 +/- 9 years, BMI = 47 +/- 7 kg/m(2), peak oxygen consumption or VO(2peak) = 2.4 +/- 0.4 l/min) and nine nonobese controls (age = 41 +/- 9 years, BMI = 23 +/- 2 kg/m(2), VO(2peak) = 2.6 +/- 0.9 l/min) participated in two sessions: the first measured resting O(2) and VO(2peak) for determination of wattage equating to 40, 75, and 90% oxygen uptake reserve (VO(2)R). The second session measured pulmonary diffusion from single-breath maneuvers of 5 s each, as well as heart rate (HR) and VO(2) over three workloads. DLNO, DLCO, and pulmonary capillary blood volume were larger in obese compared to nonobese groups (P <or= 0.06) only when expressed relative to alveolar volume (VA). The slope between VO(2) and all measures of pulmonary diffusion, whether or not expressed to VA, were not different between groups (P > 0.10). The morbidly obese have increased pulmonary diffusion per unit increase in VA compared with nonobese controls which may be due to a lower rise in VA per unit increase in VO(2) in the obese during exercise.