- Exposure to hyperbaric pressure causes a constellation of motor disturbances and ventilatory difficulties in animals and humans. The present experiments were designed to examine the effects of hyperbaric pressure on the rhythmic activity of the respiratory center in the absence of peripheral sensory afferents by using the isolated brain stem-spinal cord preparation from newborn rats. In addition, we examined the effect of pressure on the response of the respiratory center to sensory input from the trigeminal and vagus cranial nerves. Hyperbaric pressure significantly depressed the mean inspiratory drive (frequency X time integral of single electrical bursts) in C5 but not in C1 ventral roots. Pressure also reduced the amount of inhibition on the respiratory activity normally exerted by trigeminal and vagal nerve stimulation and in some cases reversed it to excitation. It is concluded that in the absence of sensory input, exposure to hyperbaric pressure depresses central respiratory activity. However, in an intact system, it may alter the balance between excitation and inhibition and render the system hyperexcitable to the same sensory input.