We examined the ventilatory response to moderate (arterial O2 saturation 80%), sustained, isocapnic hypoxia in 20 young adults. During 25 min of hypoxia, inspiratory minute ventilation (VI) showed an initial brisk increase but then declined to a level intermediate between the initial increase and resting room air VI. The intermediate level of VI was a plateau that did not change significantly when hypoxia was extended up to 1 h. The relation between the amount of initial increase and subsequent decrease in ventilation during constant hypoxia was not random; the magnitude of the eventual decline correlated confidently with the degree of initial hyperventilation. Evaluation of breathing pattern revealed that during constant hypoxia there was little alteration in respiratory timing and that the changes in VI were related to significant alterations in tidal volume and mean inspiratory flow (VT/TI). None of the changes was reproduced during a sham control protocol, in which room air was substituted for the period of low fractional concentration of inspired O2. We conclude that ventilatory response to hypoxia in adults is not sustained; it exhibits some biphasic features similar to the neonatal hypoxic response.