To further validate the doubly labeled water method for measurement of CO2 production and energy expenditure in humans, we compared it with near-continuous respiratory gas exchange in nine healthy young adult males. Subjects were housed in a respiratory chamber for 4 days. Each received 2H2(18)O at either a low (n = 6) or a moderate (n = 3) isotope dose. Low and moderate doses produced initial 2H enrichments of 5 and 10 X 10(-3) atom percent excess, respectively, and initial 18O enrichments of 2 and 2.5 X 10(-2) atom percent excess, respectively. Total body water was calculated from isotope dilution in saliva collected at 4 and 5 h after the dose. CO2 production was calculated by the two-point method using the isotopic enrichments of urines collected just before each subject entered and left the chamber. Isotope enrichments relative to predose samples were measured by isotope ratio mass spectrometry. At low isotope dose, doubly labeled water overestimated average daily energy expenditure by 8 +/- 9% (SD) (range -7 to 22%). At moderate dose the difference was reduced to +4 +/- 5% (range 0-9%). The isotope elimination curves for 2H and 18O from serial urines collected from one of the subjects showed expected diurnal variations but were otherwise quite smooth. The overestimate may be due to approximations in the corrections for isotope fractionation and isotope dilution. An alternative approach to the corrections is presented that reduces the overestimate to 1%.