The pulmonary artery pressure (Ppa) responses to short runs of acute hypoxia at two different levels of end-tidal CO2 were measured in nine normal subjects and in 20 patients with moderate to severe obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). In normal subjects the mean increase in Ppa in response to eucapnic hypoxia was 8 +/- 2 mm Hg (SEM) and was not different from the response to hypercapnic hypoxia (9 +/- 2 mm Hg, p > 0.2). In patients with OSA, the mean increase of Ppa was 8 +/- 1 mm Hg to eucapnic hypoxia, and the response to hypercapnic hypoxia was higher at 10 +/- 1 mm Hg (p = 0.01). Pulmonary pressor response to hypoxia was augmented (> 10 mm Hg) by hypercapnia in four of 20 patients with OSA but in none of the normal subjects. Normoxic hypercapnia alone was a weak stimulus, increasing Ppa by > 5 mm Hg in only two of nine patients with OSA studied. In conclusion, Ppa increases in both normal subjects and patients with OSA exposed to a ramp of acute isocapnic hypoxia. There were clear interindividual differences in pulmonary artery response. Hypercapnia did not produce clinical significant changes in Ppa in either group.