Mechanics of breathing and pulmonary diffusing properties were investigated in 24 adult patients with atrial septal defect. The patients were divided into 3 groups according to mean pulmonary artery pressure: less than 19 mm Hg (group I), 20 to 24 mm Hg (group II), and greater than 25 mm Hg (group III). The only change observed in group I was a marked increase in diffusing capacity. Patients of group II showed not only an increase in diffusing capacity, but also an overt decrease in maximal expiratory flow at all lung volumes and at any given driving pressure. For these two groups, a highly significant inverse correlation was found between changes in diffusing and elastic lung properties (r = -0.71; P less than 0.001). In patients of group III, the expiratory flow remained clearly decreased; furthermore, lung compliance and lung volumes were sharply reduced, airway resistance was elevated, and diffusing capacity was normal. Finally, from group I to group III, the lung elastic recoil became progressively diminished at small lung volumes. These results suggest that an increased pulmonary blood volume induces an increase in diffusing capacity and a slight decrease in lung compliance. Simultaneous existance of high intravascular pressure strengthens the effects of increased pulmonary blood volume on lung mechanics and results in significant abnormalities in the lung mechanical behavior. It is postulated that these effects are due to a competition for space between vessels and airways within the bronchovascular sheaths, with a subsequent compression of small airways.