In 9 patients with severe kyphoscoliosis we studied inspiratory muscle function by measuring transdiaphragmatic pressure (Pdi) and its components: gastric (Pga) and esophageal (Pes) pressures during quiet breathing. Maximal Pdi and maximal inspiratory mouth pressure (Pimax) were also measured. The results showed that Pimax and Pdimax were significantly lower in patients than in normal subjects. During quiet breathing, all patients had positive swings in Pga, indicating an active contraction of the diaphragm, but Pes was significantly more negative, suggesting the recruitment of intercostal and accessory inspiratory muscles. We did not find significant correlations between Pimax, Pdimax, delta Pga/delta Pes, FVC, PaO2, or PaCO2 and the degree of spinal deformity. The FVC tended to correlate with Pimax (r = 0.63) and with Pdimax (r = 0.53). The Pdi correlated with PaO2 (r = 0.66) and with PaCO2 (r = -0.76; p less than 0.05). A significant correlation was also observed between Pimax and PaO2 (r = 0.785; p less than 0.05) and between Pimax and PaCO2 (r = -0.86; p less than 0.01). We conclude that impairment of inspiratory muscle function is related to the development of ventilatory failure in kyphoscoliosis.