The time course of change in 'air hunger', the uncomfortable urge to breathe, was assessed following sudden increases and decreases in PETCO2. Healthy normal men and women were mechanically ventilated at constant tidal volume and frequency, and were required to rate the perceived intensity of air hunger every 10-15 sec. PETCO2 was changed by altering FICO2 unbeknownst to the subject. Air hunger changed to its new level following steps with a median time constant of about 50 sec during hyperoxia. Changes in air hunger following PETCO2 steps were slightly faster when background gas was slightly hypoxic. Although the present results are consistent with the hypothesis that air hunger and ventilatory drive share the same receptors and central neural processes, analysis of dynamic response is probably not sensitive enough to disprove the hypothesis.