Patients with severe COPD may be in a state of ventilatory muscle (VM) fatigue. In these patients, rapid and shallow breathing has been hypothesized to be a compensatory mechanism that prevents more severe fatigue from taking place. To test these hypotheses, we studied the effects of VM resting in a group of patients with severe COPD. Eleven clinically stable patients with COPD and chronic hypercapnia were studied. Six of them (group A) had a seven-day period of negative pressure-assisted ventilation (NPV), and five (group B) with similar functional characteristics served as a control group. Compared with a normal age-matched control group, both A and B groups exhibited significantly lower tidal volume (VT), inspiratory time (TI), total time of the respiratory cycle (Ttot) and Ti/Ttot ratio, decrease in muscle strength, and greater electromyographic activity of diaphragm (EMGd) and parasternal muscles, but similar ventilation and VT/TI. After the study period, group A exhibited significant increase in VT, Ti, and TI/Ttot (p less than 0.05), and decrease in PaCO2 (p less than 0.05), EMGd, and EMGint (p less than 0.05 for both), and a slight but significant increase in maximal inspiratory pressure (MIP) (p less than 0.05). These data suggest that NPV rests VM, increases their strength, and reduces hypercapnia in patients with severe COPD.