Neurochemical and morphological changes in the carotid body are induced by chronic hypoxia, leading to regulation of ventilation. In this study, we examined the time courses of changes in immunohistochemical intensity for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and cellular volume of glomus cells in rats exposed to hypoxia (10% O(2)) for up to 24 hr. Grayscale intensity for TH immunofluorescence was significantly increased in rats exposed to hypoxia for 12, 18, and 24 hr compared with control rats (p<0.05). The transectional area of glomus cells was not significantly different between experimental groups. The TH fluorescence intensity of the glomus cells exhibited a strong negative correlation with the transectional area in control rats (Spearman's rho = -0.70). This correlation coefficient decreased with exposure time, and it was lowest for the rats exposed to hypoxia for 18 hr (rho = -0.18). The histogram of TH fluorescence intensity showed a single peak in control rats. The peaks were gradually shifted to the right and became less pronounced in hypoxia-exposed rats, suggesting that a hypoxia-induced increase in TH immunoreactivity occurred uniformly in glomus cells. In conclusion, this study demonstrates that short-term hypoxia induces an increase in TH protein expression in rat carotid body glomus cells.