The esophageal balloon technique for measuring pleural surface pressure (Ppl) has recently been shown to be valid in recumbent positions. Questions remain regarding its validity at lung volumes higher and lower than normally observed in upright and horizontal postures, respectively. We therefore evaluated it further in 10 normal subjects, seated and supine, by measuring the ratio of esophageal to mouth pressure changes (delta Pes/delta Pm) during Mueller, Valsalva, and occlusion test maneuvers at FRC, 20, 40, 60, and 80% VC with the balloon placed 5, 10, and 15 cm above the cardia. In general, delta Pes/delta Pm was highest at the 5-cm level, during Mueller maneuvers and occlusion tests, regardless of posture or lung volume (mean range 1.00-1.08). At 10 and 15 cm, there was a progressive increase in delta Pes/delta Pm with volume (from 0.85 to 1.14). During Valsalva maneuvers, delta Pes/delta Pm also tended to increase with volume while supine (range 0.91-1.04), but was not volume-dependent while seated. Qualitatively, observed delta Pes/delta Pm fit predicted corresponding values (based on lung and upper airway compliances). Quantitatively there were discrepancies probably due to lack of measurement of esophageal elastance and to inhomogeneities in delta Ppl. At every lung volume in both postures, there was at least one esophageal site where delta Pes/delta Pm was within 10% of unity.