The effects of positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) on alveolar recruitment and closing volume were studied in ten supine, sedated, and paralyzed patients with chronic obstructive respiratory disease and acute respiratory failure. We applied PEEP (0, 5, 10, and 15 cm H2O) and constructed inflation static volume-pressure (V-P) curves. In all patients, the static V-P curves obtained at different PEEP levels were superimposed on each other, indicating that with PEEP there was no recruitment of previously atelectatic lung units. However, the static V-P curves exhibited an inflection point, which should reflect the critical pressure (Po) required to reopen all closed airways, whilst the corresponding lung volume (Vo) reflects the opening volume. On average, Vo was 0.71 L above the relaxation volume of the respiratory system (Vr). All patients, however, exhibited dynamic hyperinflation, i.e., with zero PEEP (ZEEP) the end-expiratory lung volume (EELV) was 0.54 L above Vr. Nevertheless, in seven patients the EELV on ZEEP was below Vo, resulting in cyclic reopening and closure of small airways with each breathing cycle, with concomitant mechanical stresses on the peripheral airways that may lead to low-volume barotrauma. Such barotrauma may be prevented by increasing with PEEP the EELV to Vo.