In six spontaneously breathing anesthetized subjects [halothane approximately 1 maximum anesthetic concentration (MAC), 70% N2O-30% O2], we measured flow (V), volume (V), and tracheal pressure (Ptr). With airway occluded at end-inspiration tidal volume (VT), we measured Ptr when the subjects relaxed the respiratory muscles. Dividing relaxed Ptr by VT, total respiratory system elastance (Ers) was obtained. With the subject still relaxed, the occlusion was released to obtain the V-V relationship during the ensuing relaxed expiration. Under these conditions, the expiratory driving pressure is V X Ers, and thus the pressure-flow relationship of the system can be obtained. By subtracting the flow resistance of equipment, the intrinsic respiratory flow resistance (Rrs) is obtained. Similar measurements were repeated during anesthesia-paralysis (succinylcholine). Ers averaged 23.9 +/- 4 (+/- SD) during anesthesia and 21 +/- 1.8 cmH2O X 1(-1) during anesthesia-paralysis. The corresponding values of intrinsic Rrs were 1.6 +/- 0.7 and 1.9 +/- 0.9 cmH2O X 1(-1) X s, respectively. These results indicate that Ers increases substantially during anesthesia, whereas Rrs remains within the normal limits. Muscle paralysis has no significant effect on Ers and Rrs. We also provide the first measurements of inspiratory muscle activity and related negative work during spontaneous expiration in anesthetized humans. These show that 36-74% of the elastic energy stored during inspiration is wasted in terms of negative inspiratory muscle work.