Most studies of bilateral lung volume reduction surgery (LVRS) report increases in arterial oxygenation (PaO2). Some suggest this results from an increased alveolar ventilation, but others imply that ventilation-perfusion heterogeneity is reduced. We measured arterial blood gases (ABGs) on air before and 3 mo following LVRS in 46 patients (61% of eligible patients), estimate the difference between alveolar and arterial O2 (AaPO2), and correlated the changes observed with preoperative ABGs, and with pre-and postoperative pulmonary function. The mean +/- SD change in PaO2 and AaPO2 was +3 +/- 10 mm Hg (p = 0.058) and +1 +/- 11 mm Hg (p = NS), respectively, and the range of change was large (-17 to +29 mm Hg and -24 to +23 mm Hg, respectively). The mean change in PaCO2 was -3 +/- 5 mm Hg (p < 0.05) and ranged from -11 to +5 mm Hg. Changes in PaO2 and AaPO2 were poorly correlated with changes in PaCO2 or with pre- or postoperative pulmonary function. Although some patients had a marked improvement in ABGs following LVRS, almost as many deteriorated. On average, only minimal effects were seen. Although mean alveolar ventilation improved somewhat, the effect of LVRS on PaO2 primarily resulted from alterations in ventilation-perfusion heterogeneity.