Five awake previously tracheotomized mongrel dogs were challenged with inspiratory resistive breathing (IRB). The mean peak tracheal pressure = -35.4 +/- 1.1 cmH2O, ETCO2 = 39.8 +/- 1.5 mmHg was sustained for 2 h/d over 4 consecutive d. On the fourth day, following IRB, the dogs were placed under general anaesthesia, and the diaphragm was perfused via the internal mammary artery with a low molecular weight fluorescent tracer (Procion orange, FW = 631), to which normal muscle fibers are impermeable. Muscle fiber membrane damage was identified on tissue sections by using fluorescent microscopy showing the presence of the tracer in the cytoplasm. Four dogs undergoing the same protocol (except IRB) served as control. The dye was seen in 7.6 +/- 2.6% and in 0.3 +/- 0.1% of fibers in the IRB and control groups, respectively (p < 0.05). Via ATPase staining, it was found that fibers of type I were predominantly affected as compared to type II (p < 0.05). In addition, an increased area fraction of fibers demonstrating sarcomere disruption was found after IRB (2.4 +/- 0.5%) compared to pre-IRB (0.4 +/- 0.1%; p < 0.05). We conclude that resistive breathing of a magnitude similar to that seen in some respiratory diseases, or used in respiratory muscle training programs induces muscle membrane and sarcomere injury.