In order to determine the role of the carotid bodies on the ventilatory control characteristics during the non-steady-state phase of exercise in man, six normal males performed cycle ergometry with four repetitions of a 6 min, constant-load work bout at inspired O2 fractions (FI,O2) of 0.12, 0.15, 0.21, 0.30 and 1.00. Each test began with unloaded pedalling; this was followed by a constant load which was 90% of the subject's anaerobic threshold at FI,O2 = 0.12. Ventilation (VE), CO2 output (VCO2) and O2 uptake (VO2) were determined breath-by-breath during the test and the time constants of response (tau VE, tau VCO2 and tau VO2) were established by least-squares techniques, following interpolation (1 s), temporal alignment and averaging of the four responses. In each subject, tau VE and tau VCO2 increased as functions of increasing FI,O2, and were inverse functions of the proportional contribution to VE of peripheral chemoreceptor drive (as estimated from hyperoxic-transition or 'Dejours' tests). tau VE averaged 40 s at FI,O2 = 0.12 and 112 s at FI,O2 = 1.00, each response being well fitted by a single exponential. However, tau VO2 was not significantly affected by the alterations in FI,O2. Although there was no discernible peripheral chemosensitivity at FI,O2 = 0.30 or 1.00, the tau VE increased appreciably between these inspirates. We therefore conclude that the peripheral chemoreceptors are important, but not exclusive determinants of the exponential response characteristics during the non-steady-state phase of the exercise hyperpnoea in man. This supports the contention of a component of the control being humorally mediated even during moderate exercise.